But each year, Congress intervened to save these missions. OCO-3 launched on time in 2019. PACE and CLARREO took some budget cuts but are still set to launch in 2022 and 2023, respectively.
“I’m happy to say it hasn’t been as bad as I thought,” says Andrew Kruczkiewicz, a researcher at Columbia University who uses Earth observation data to assess disaster risk. “Maybe that’s just because the expectations were [that things were] going to be a lot worse.”
The administration tried some other tactics to weaken the impact of climate research. Scientists were pressured to stop using phrases like “climate change” and “global warming” in any grant proposals or project descriptions. And some institutions, like NOAA, were stocked with climate critics who have downplayed climate change.
So the most immediate steps the Biden administration could take on day one would be to free scientists from any language restrictions, and to assure Earth observation mission teams they have leadership’s support to plan long-term investigations in order to get the most out of these missions.
The short steps
Increased funding would help expand the scope of these types of programs to collect more valuable information. More money could be used to plan and launch new missions as well. Mariel Borowitz, a space policy expert at Georgia Tech, thinks it could be worth taking a cue from the European Space Agency and launch an Earth observation program similar to Copernicus, which is tasked with studying global climate trends over a very long period of time. This could be a nice contrast to the current NASA approach of using discrete missions to investigate specific research questions over just a few years.
Other trends under Trump’s watch cannot and probably shouldn’t be reversed, but they will require a response. For example, any programs spearheaded by private companies like Planet Labs (which operates hundreds of EO satellites) have found room to grow more rapidly in the last four years than ever. New companies are not only building their own sensors and flying hardware in orbit, but also processing data and disseminating images. NASA still has the largest Earth observing system in the world, and its data is free for anyone to use. But there may be communities or regions of the world whose only access to the relevant data may come from private parties who charge for it.
The Biden administration could take steps to permanently ensure free and open access to what NASA collects, and it could also look into engaging with the private companies directly. “There’s already a pilot program started where NASA purchases the data from commercial entities under a license that allows them to share that data with researchers or a wider audience,” says Borowitz. It may be a good model for Biden to lean on permanently to help a private industry grow while giving less-wealthy parties access to critical data.
“EO data is different from other types of data,” says Kruczkiewicz. “In some ways, it’s one of the most privileged types of data.” Maintaining its status as something closer to a public good may ensure that people continue to treat it as privileged.
But there are other large questions about the future of Earth observation research that the scientific community is ready to resolve. These have less to do with remediating the impact of the Trump years and more to do with understanding how we can better apply the findings of climate science in the real world.
“I feel like we have an opportunity to rethink things,” says Kruczkiewicz. “The past four years have forced us to think about not only the way that data is produced, but who has access to it, how it’s disseminated, what are some of the unintended consequences for these programs, and how far down the line we should be accountable for as scientists.”
Simply throwing more money at Earth science and EO programs isn’t enough, though. First, “these satellite programs take an incredibly long time to develop, fund, and implement, so the time frame for them is generally outside the length of individual administrations,” says Curtis Woodcock, an Earth scientist at Boston University. The effects of Earth science cuts at NASA during George W. Bush’s administration are still being felt, Woodcock points out: “In many ways NASA earth science has not completely recovered since then.” To restore Earth science to rigorous levels, we need a long-term plan that will go beyond Biden’s first (and possibly only) term.
Second, there is already a lot of Earth observation data that we can already use—we just need better processing tools. “My fear is that the gap between data availability and use of that data is growing because we have so much data now,” says Kruczkiewicz. “We don’t necessarily need to develop new technology to have new sensors, or new spatial resolution in order to solve flood questions.”
The types of technologies federal officials may want to start investing in, instead, are data processing and tasking systems that can analyze and make sense of the enormous amount of imagery and measurements being taken. Those tools could, say, illustrate which communities might require more resources and attention should a flood or a drought strike.
Third, we need to start thinking about how climate science is applied on the ground. For example, Kruczkiewicz’s own work involves using satellite data from NASA to understand the risks vulnerable populations and communities face from disasters like floods and wildfires, as well as the issues involved in preparing for and responding to such events. “I think we need to rethink the stories that we tell of people on Earth benefiting from EO data,” he argues. “It’s not just about throwing flood maps over the fence and hoping people use them.” The Biden administration could start taking steps to empower humanitarian organizations that can communicate what EO findings mean, how they can be turned into practical strategies, and how the data could help resolve social inequalities exacerbated by climate impacts.
Other institutions outside the US have done a better job getting up to speed on this type of perspective. Dan Osgood, an economist at Columbia University, uses satellite data for insurance programs that pay benefits to African farmers who face the threat of crop loss due to climate change. He and his team are already learning how farmers use these payouts to invest in higher-return agricultural approaches. It’s an example of how EO data doesn’t just tell us something new about the climate but can be used to actually create societal change.
“It used to be that the US government was investing in us to try and do that kind of validation,” he says. “And now, for more than four years, it’s been primarily European governments. ESA’s data is much more freely available, and they’ve invested in us to be able to use it. The European products are often easier to work with and, in many cases, less problematic.” (Osgood notes that much of the change he describes had its beginnings late in Barack Obama’s administration.)
Many of the actions Biden can take with respect to Earth observation might do the most good by simply setting a tone for how the US wants to treat climate data. Encouraging open access, so the information can be shared with the world, could go a long way to reorienting the US as a leader against climate change.
Decarbonizing industries with connectivity and 5G
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s sixth climate change report—an aggregated assessment of scientific research prepared by some 300 scientists across 66 countries—has served as the loudest and clearest wake-up call to date on the global warming crisis. The panel unequivocally attributes the increase in the earth’s temperature—it has risen by 1.1 °C since the Industrial Revolution—to human activity. Without substantial and immediate reductions in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions, temperatures will rise between 1.5 °C and 2 °C before the end of the century. That, the panel posits, will lead all of humanity to a “greater risk of passing through ‘tipping points,’ thresholds beyond which certain impacts can no longer be avoided even if temperatures are brought back down later on.”
Corporations and industries must therefore redouble their greenhouse gas emissions reduction and removal efforts with speed and precision—but to do this, they must also commit to deep operational and organizational transformation. Cellular infrastructure, particularly 5G, is one of the many digital tools and technology-enabled processes organizations have at their disposal to accelerate decarbonization efforts.
5G and other cellular technology can enable increasingly interconnected supply chains and networks, improve data sharing, optimize systems, and increase operational efficiency. These capabilities could soon contribute to an exponential acceleration of global efforts to reduce carbon emissions.
Industries such as energy, manufacturing, and transportation could have the biggest impact on decarbonization efforts through the use of 5G, as they are some of the biggest greenhouse-gas-emitting industries, and all rely on connectivity to link to one another through communications network infrastructure.
The higher performance and improved efficiency of 5G—which delivers higher multi-gigabit peak data speeds, ultra-low latency, increased reliability, and increased network capacity—could help businesses and public infrastructure providers focus on business transformation and reduction of harmful emissions. This requires effective digital management and monitoring of distributed operations with resilience and analytic insight. 5G will help factories, logistics networks, power companies, and others operate more efficiently, more consciously, and more purposely in line with their explicit sustainability objectives through better insight and more powerful network configurations.
This report, “Decarbonizing industries with connectivity & 5G,” argues that the capabilities enabled by broadband cellular connectivity primarily, though not exclusively, through 5G network infrastructure are a unique, powerful, and immediate enabler of carbon reduction efforts. They have the potential to create a transformational acceleration of decarbonization efforts, as increasingly interconnected supply chains, transportation, and energy networks share data to increase efficiency and productivity, hence optimizing systems for lower carbon emissions.
Surgeons have successfully tested a pig’s kidney in a human patient
The reception: The research was conducted last month and is yet to be peer reviewed or published in a journal, but external experts say it represents a major advance. “There is no doubt that this is a highly significant breakthrough,” says Darren K. Griffin, a professor of genetics at the University of Kent, UK. “The research team were cautious, using a patient who had suffered brain death, attaching the kidney to the outside of the body, and closely monitoring for only a limited amount of time. There is thus a long way to go and much to discover,” he added.
“This is a huge breakthrough. It’s a big, big deal,” Dorry Segev, a professor of transplant surgery at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine who was not involved in the research, told the New York Times. However, he added, “we need to know more about the longevity of the organ.”
The background: In recent years, research has increasingly zeroed in on pigs as the most promising avenue to help address the shortage of organs for transplant, but it has faced a number of obstacles, most prominently the fact that a sugar in pig cells triggers an aggressive rejection response in humans.
The researchers got around this by genetically altering the donor pig to knock out the gene encoding the sugar molecule that causes the rejection response. The pig was genetically engineered by Revivicor, one of several biotech companies working to develop pig organs to transplant into humans.
The big prize: There is a dire need for more kidneys. More than 100,000 people in the US are currently waiting for a kidney transplant, and 13 die of them every day, according to the National Kidney Foundation. Genetically engineered pigs could offer a crucial lifeline for these people, if the approach tested at NYU Langone can work for much longer periods.
Getting value from your data shouldn’t be this hard
The potential impact of the ongoing worldwide data explosion continues to excite the imagination. A 2018 report estimated that every second of every day, every person produces 1.7 MB of data on average—and annual data creation has more than doubled since then and is projected to more than double again by 2025. A report from McKinsey Global Institute estimates that skillful uses of big data could generate an additional $3 trillion in economic activity, enabling applications as diverse as self-driving cars, personalized health care, and traceable food supply chains.
But adding all this data to the system is also creating confusion about how to find it, use it, manage it, and legally, securely, and efficiently share it. Where did a certain dataset come from? Who owns what? Who’s allowed to see certain things? Where does it reside? Can it be shared? Can it be sold? Can people see how it was used?
As data’s applications grow and become more ubiquitous, producers, consumers, and owners and stewards of data are finding that they don’t have a playbook to follow. Consumers want to connect to data they trust so they can make the best possible decisions. Producers need tools to share their data safely with those who need it. But technology platforms fall short, and there are no real common sources of truth to connect both sides.
How do we find data? When should we move it?
In a perfect world, data would flow freely like a utility accessible to all. It could be packaged up and sold like raw materials. It could be viewed easily, without complications, by anyone authorized to see it. Its origins and movements could be tracked, removing any concerns about nefarious uses somewhere along the line.
Today’s world, of course, does not operate this way. The massive data explosion has created a long list of issues and opportunities that make it tricky to share chunks of information.
With data being created nearly everywhere within and outside of an organization, the first challenge is identifying what is being gathered and how to organize it so it can be found.
A lack of transparency and sovereignty over stored and processed data and infrastructure opens up trust issues. Today, moving data to centralized locations from multiple technology stacks is expensive and inefficient. The absence of open metadata standards and widely accessible application programming interfaces can make it hard to access and consume data. The presence of sector-specific data ontologies can make it hard for people outside the sector to benefit from new sources of data. Multiple stakeholders and difficulty accessing existing data services can make it hard to share without a governance model.
Europe is taking the lead
Despite the issues, data-sharing projects are being undertaken on a grand scale. One that’s backed by the European Union and a nonprofit group is creating an interoperable data exchange called Gaia-X, where businesses can share data under the protection of strict European data privacy laws. The exchange is envisioned as a vessel to share data across industries and a repository for information about data services around artificial intelligence (AI), analytics, and the internet of things.
Hewlett Packard Enterprise recently announced a solution framework to support companies, service providers, and public organizations’ participation in Gaia-X. The dataspaces platform, which is currently in development and based on open standards and cloud native, democratizes access to data, data analytics, and AI by making them more accessible to domain experts and common users. It provides a place where experts from domain areas can more easily identify trustworthy datasets and securely perform analytics on operational data—without always requiring the costly movement of data to centralized locations.
By using this framework to integrate complex data sources across IT landscapes, enterprises will be able to provide data transparency at scale, so everyone—whether a data scientist or not—knows what data they have, how to access it, and how to use it in real time.
Data-sharing initiatives are also on the top of enterprises’ agendas. One important priority enterprises face is the vetting of data that’s being used to train internal AI and machine learning models. AI and machine learning are already being used widely in enterprises and industry to drive ongoing improvements in everything from product development to recruiting to manufacturing. And we’re just getting started. IDC projects the global AI market will grow from $328 billion in 2021 to $554 billion in 2025.
To unlock AI’s true potential, governments and enterprises need to better understand the collective legacy of all the data that is driving these models. How do AI models make their decisions? Do they have bias? Are they trustworthy? Have untrustworthy individuals been able to access or change the data that an enterprise has trained its model against? Connecting data producers to data consumers more transparently and with greater efficiency can help answer some of these questions.
Building data maturity
Enterprises aren’t going to solve how to unlock all of their data overnight. But they can prepare themselves to take advantage of technologies and management concepts that help to create a data-sharing mentality. They can ensure that they’re developing the maturity to consume or share data strategically and effectively rather than doing it on an ad hoc basis.
Data producers can prepare for wider distribution of data by taking a series of steps. They need to understand where their data is and understand how they’re collecting it. Then, they need to make sure the people who consume the data have the ability to access the right sets of data at the right times. That’s the starting point.
Then comes the harder part. If a data producer has consumers—which can be inside or outside the organization—they have to connect to the data. That’s both an organizational and a technology challenge. Many organizations want governance over data sharing with other organizations. The democratization of data—at least being able to find it across organizations—is an organizational maturity issue. How do they handle that?
Companies that contribute to the auto industry actively share data with vendors, partners, and subcontractors. It takes a lot of parts—and a lot of coordination—to assemble a car. Partners readily share information on everything from engines to tires to web-enabled repair channels. Automotive dataspaces can serve upwards of 10,000 vendors. But in other industries, it might be more insular. Some large companies might not want to share sensitive information even within their own network of business units.
Creating a data mentality
Companies on either side of the consumer-producer continuum can advance their data-sharing mentality by asking themselves these strategic questions:
- If enterprises are building AI and machine learning solutions, where are the teams getting their data? How are they connecting to that data? And how do they track that history to ensure trustworthiness and provenance of data?
- If data has value to others, what is the monetization path the team is taking today to expand on that value, and how will it be governed?
- If a company is already exchanging or monetizing data, can it authorize a broader set of services on multiple platforms—on premises and in the cloud?
- For organizations that need to share data with vendors, how is the coordination of those vendors to the same datasets and updates getting done today?
- Do producers want to replicate their data or force people to bring models to them? Datasets might be so large that they can’t be replicated. Should a company host software developers on its platform where its data is and move the models in and out?
- How can workers in a department that consumes data influence the practices of the upstream data producers within their organization?
The data revolution is creating business opportunities—along with plenty of confusion about how to search for, collect, manage, and gain insights from that data in a strategic way. Data producers and data consumers are becoming more disconnected with each other. HPE is building a platform supporting both on-premises and public cloud, using open source as the foundation and solutions like HPE Ezmeral Software Platform to provide the common ground both sides need to make the data revolution work for them.
Read the original article on Enterprise.nxt.
This content was produced by Hewlett Packard Enterprise. It was not written by MIT Technology Review’s editorial staff.