Report from the Global Solutions Summit — April 2020

Mei Lin Fung
May 4, 2020 · 3 min read

By: Mei Lin Fung

The Global Solutions Initiative is a collaborative of world-renowned think tanks united in a mission to find policy solutions for major global problems. I was honored to “virtually” join this year’s Global Solutions Summit to discuss “Clean IT,” the need for new approaches to ensure that digital technologies can be part of the solution to climate crisis — not its accelerator.

Before our recent travel slowdown due to COVOD-19, air traffic accounted for two percent of the world’s carbon footprint. Energy used to support digitization, however, accounts for four percent, with the trend going up. Like our friends at the Hasso Plattner Institute, who lead the Clean IT effort, we at PCI believe that accelerating digital transformation is essential for achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals, but we must find green ways of doing so.

Energy consumption is not only a matter of hardware. With the prevalence of artificial intelligence and distributed ledgers, energy load is increasingly determined by those writing the code. “Slim Algorithms” that are optimized to reduce energy consumption and more efficiently achieve their goal balance accuracy and conservation. One example of how this can be attained is through the use of binary 1-bit neural networks instead of 32-bit neural networks — which can provide up to 95% more energy efficiency with slight degradation in algorithmic efficiency. (Christopher Meinel, CEO of the Hasso Plattner Institute said this in his keynote at the Clean IT Global Table —

The “Clean IT” approach fits into the larger context of a “Do No Harm”(DNH) approach to technology. In my remarks, I discussed the need for locally-driven DNH regulation, facilitated through global digital cooperation.

During our current “World Wide Pause,” it is appropriate to reflect on how we can build digital infrastructure designed to help people to thrive in a more sustainable world. I believe that will require co-creating with people in their communities with global coordination on protocols, learning from the way the first wave of the Internet reached the world and spread bottom-up with top-down support.

I was pleased to be a part this inspiring gathering and strongly recommend a listen to the opening statements, especially the talk from Colm Kelly form PricewaterhouseCoopers on how business is reacting to the COVID-19 crisis, social and economic implications, and how new policies can lead us to a better world — redesigning supply chains for greater resilience with emphasis on local supplies and services.

Mei Lin Fung is cofounder and chair of People-Centered Internet, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization working to ensure that the Internet is a positive force for good, improving the lives and well-being of people around the world. This includes promoting connectivity, fighting disinformation, contributing to the discussion about technology ethics, supporting the development of people-centered applications and initiatives, advising policymakers, and leveraging technology to help communities be more resilient.

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