Consulting Start Up

Toronto’s future belongs to the machines

Toronto’s future belongs to the machines

Toronto needs to become a city with more edge. Edge , that is. Why , why edge, and why Toronto?

Copyright by www.thestar.com

SwissCognitiveI believe the most important and disruptive technology over the next decade is or . This is not general — computers that are as smart or smarter than humans — but a subset called . This technology, which has been in warp drive since 2012 , is narrow, but enormously useful: vast amounts of data are used to train a system, an algorithm is produced that can detect patterns and then inferences can be made on fresh data using that algorithm.

Gartner expects that will create $3.3 trillion (U.S.) in business value by 2021 (that’s roughly twice the size of Canada’s economy) while a Deloitte survey of our clients found that 81 per cent say will be either critically important or very important for their business by 2020.

Up until recently, almost all of the training and inference for was done in large data centres that are distant from the devices that consumers and enterprises use: this is called the network core, while the devices are said to be at the edge. There are a few of these data centres in Toronto, but most of them (99 per cent plus) are elsewhere (mainly in the U.S.), and the chips that are used in those data centres (about $4 billion in sales) are not made here. Not only would it be difficult for a Toronto startup to enter this market, it may not even be the best target: the data centre chip business is down about 10 per cent compared to last year.

These data centre chips in the core of the network are found on racks: one high powered version costs $400,000, weighs 350 pounds, and consumes 10,000 watts of power. Which is perfectly fine inside a data centre with more cooling capacity than a mall, hooked up to power lines sufficient for a small town, with reinforced floors, and with thousands or millions of customers who can spread that cost among them.

But you can’t put that rack on a smartphone, in a battery-powered warehouse , or in a camera or sensor. In those cases, what is needed is a small, cheap, low power chip that can do at least some of the tasks that up until now have been done deep in the core of the network.

Doing the processing on the device is called edge computing, and an upcoming report of mine predicts that the market for edge hardware will be more than a billion dollars globally by 2024, and growing more than 50 per cent per year between now and then. That’s an exciting tiger whose tail we should grab onto — but what makes me think Toronto can capture more than our fair share of this market? […]

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