An ant weighing just 1 or 2 milligrams, will navigate around obstacles and hunt for signals with a level of skill and speed that puts our most sophisticated robots to shame… And yet, with all that apparent intelligence, a few isolated ants will meander aimlessly – until the number of ants increases beyond a couple of dozen.
With that, a higher level of intelligence starts to emerge. As the population rises, the transformation becomes staggering. Millions of ants can build “cities” with complex ventilation systems, sewers and recycling facilities. Ants are the only creatures, other than humans, to practice intensive farming. They cultivate living crops, they breed and herd aphids and other insects, “milking” them for food. Ant groups communicate, teach, form teams and go to war.
keynote presentation at NetEvents May 2019 EMEA IT Spotlight in Barcelona, I compared the behaviour of ants to the most advanced data centers, and the higher-level intelligence needed for effective digital transformation. Such dynamically responsive intelligence does not reside merely in a CPU, or in a server or storage box, or the network, or any individual application. Rather today’s problems that crunch massive native sets need to be optimized across all these elements to create a computer at the data center level.
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Just as the ant colony acts as a highly functional organism without centralized control, similarly there is no single governing program in the latest machine-learning models. Instead the data itself drives the processes in a data center made of compute and storage elements connected by an intelligent network. This “deep learning” is also comparable to the human brain – a huge network of relatively small processing elements called synapses that actually process data as it moves across the network.
A data deluge
To set the scene I used an illustration of the transformation in the very nature of data acquisition. In 2007 Nokia, a $150 billion enterprise decided to invest in the nascent automobile SatNav market. They acquired Navitech, a company with about five million traffic cameras across Europe, realising that a navigation system that kept up to date with real time traffic conditions would offer a major competitive advantage.
In the same year, an Israeli company called Waze was started, with a similar objective – except that Waze gathered the same data not via installing millions of traffic sensors but with an app in every users’ phone. This allowed Waze to quickly deploy tens of millions of traffic sensors at no cost, by leveraging the GPS location chips present in every smart phone, and harvest traffic movement data and upload it to the Waze system. The rest is history: in five or six years Nokia had shrunk to less than the buying price of Navitech, while Waze was snapped up by Google.
A nice stor
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