Have you heard that Microsoft is testing underwater data centers? On the surface (well, actually on the ocean floor) it’s not a bad idea. Project Natick seals a node of servers in a steel pipe for an undersea adventure planned for at least 10 years. The primary reason is to utilize cold ocean temperatures to keep the machines cool as they crunch through your incessant Candy Crush Saga sessions.
Passive cooling is wonderful, and really drops the energy footprint of a data center, albeit a very small one which is being tested. Scaled up, I can think of another big impact: property taxes. Does anyone know what the law says about dropping a pod in the ocean? As far as I can tell, laying undersea cabling is expensive, but once installed there are no landlords holding out their hands for a monthly extraction. Rent aside, taking up space with windowless buildings sucking huge amounts of electricity isn’t going to win hearts and minds of the neighborhood. Undersea real estate make sense there too.
But it’s fun to play Devil’s Advocate, and this one immediately raised my eyebrow. I read as much Sci Fi as time allows, and am always interested to see which authors are registering the best technology predictions. This is the second time in short order that I turn to [William Hertling’s] work. Back in November, Google announced a project to add predictive responses to Gmail. This parallels the premise of [Hertling’s] Singularity Series which begins with Avogadro Corp. Another major point in that novel is the use of offshore data centers.
In the story those data centers are basically unmanned floating oil rigs. The installations become targets of theft as pirates board and cut their way into the shipping containers to get at the valuable user data stored within. Avogadro’s response is to outfit the rigs with weaponized robots, thereby giving the Artificial Intelligence a way of defending itself.
I see a big parallel if Project Natick takes off. Presumably there will be thousands of the data center pods. They don’t need to be weaponized, recovering them from the floor of the ocean would be more risk than reward for a would-be thief. Tapping undersea communications has long been a tool of spycraft so data security is something to consider. And if total deployment numbers were to reach millions we may have an ocean warming problem to face. But if we ever face a threat from an all-controlling AI these are the perfect safe-haven for it. In the Microsoft promo video below, Research Engineer [Jeff Kramer] even says: “You can’t do anything about it if it screws up”.
Well, for now these pods will have hardline connections for both electricity and data, so you can always pull the plug. Unless the AI is smart enough to order wireless and solar (perhaps geothermal) redundancies before our small-minded species can realize the threat.