Monthly Archives: September 2013

Losing my hearing in the data center

Today I spent 2 hours in the bowels of the university library. Tucked next to an acre of books in compressed storage behind chain-link fence is a door into an incredibly noisy room with three huge independent air-conditioner feeds and a giant bank of lead-acid batteries against one wall. It’s our primary data center of course. Racks of servers hooked up with fiber-optic cable to hundreds of terabytes of hard drives abound. Here the containers for all our network and server infrastructure is kept ice-cold in a deafening blast of air.

Colossus_code-brea_2637963k

I enjoy visiting places like this because they stand in such contrast to the mushy and imaginary virtual world of software that I typically inhabit. At the end of the day, all those bits don’t just “exist” out in the “cloud” somewhere. They are burning up the circuit boards on a real piece of metal that will quickly melt if you were to stop blowing on them.

Like a little child blowing on his pinwheel when there is no breeze or running to keep his kite up when their isn’t enough wind, we have to put a lot of raw energy into our digital creations to keep them from falling to the ground. Entropy is a ruthless enemy and each day we pass on to the next generation the will and skills to fight it. Only crazy sub-creator humans bother with this.

That is why there will never be an artificial intelligence “singularity”. Any computer smart enough to become self-aware would get tired of the noise and effort and just drift back off to sleep.