Saturday, December 31, 2016

A Short Look Back at 2016

I have found very little in the last month and a half to add to previous posts.  CO2 continues its alarming rise, to what will in all likelihood be more than 406 ppm (yearly average) by end of year, and while global temperatures have ended their string of monthly records, we are still on course for a 1.2 degree C rise since 1850, about 0.3 degrees of it in the last 2 ½ years.  The big news in the Arctic (and Antarctic) is an unprecedented low in sea ice extent/area, plus record high temps in the Arctic in December – but that continues a smaller trend evident in most of the first half of 2016. 

Meanwhile, on the computing side, relatively little real-world innovation happened this year.  In-memory computing continued its steady rise in both performance and applicability, with smaller companies taking more of a lead as compared to 2015.  While blockchain technology and quantum computing made a big news splash early in the year, careful reading of “use cases” shows that real-world implementations of blockchain are thin on the ground or non-existent, as most companies try to figure out how best to make it work, while quantum computing is clearly far from real-world usefulness as of yet.

The big news in both areas, alas, is therefore the election of Donald Trump as President.  In the climate change area, as I predicted, he is proving to be an absolute disaster, with nominees for at least six posts that are climate change deniers with every incentive to make the American government a hindrance rather than a help in efforts to change “business as usual.” 

In the computing area, we see the spectacle of some large computing firms offering their services in public to Trump, an unprecedented move based on the calculation that while being seen as cooperative may not bring any benefits, failure to act in this way may cause serious problems for the firm.  Thus, we see Silicon Valley execs whose workforces are not at all enthused about Trump acting in meetings with him as if he offers new business opportunities, and IBM’s CEO announcing ways in which IBM technology can aid in achieving his presumed goals. 

It may seem odd to give such prominence to the personality of the President in assessing either climate change or the computing industry.  The fact is, however, that all of the moves I have cited are unprecedented, and derive from Trump’s personality.  To fail to consider this in assessing the likely long-run effects of the “new abnormal” in both the sustainability field and the computing industry is, imho, a failure to be an effective computer industry analyst.  And while no one likes a perpetually downbeat analyst, one that continually predicts rosy outcomes in this type of situation is simply not worth listening to.

I look back on 2016, and I see little that is permanent to celebrate – although the willingness of the media to begin to report on and accept climate change is, however temporary, worth noting.  I wish I could say that there is hope for better things in 2017; but as far as I can see, there isn’t.