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Five takeaways on the future of AI from mCloud Connect 2018

mCLoud Connect 2018 ilustrated how existing and future technologies can save energy and the environment
Five takeaways on the future of AI from mCloud Connect 2018
Universal mCloud's inaugural tech conference pulled in some of the top minds in AI, 3D and AR

Universal mCloud Corp. (CVE:MCLD) co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Russ McMeekin opened the mCloud Connect 2018 conference – two days of networking and presentations for mCloud customers, suppliers and industry thought leaders – by explaining that his company benefits from employing and interfacing with some of the brightest minds in artificial intelligence (AI) and other technologies that companies are adopting to better manage energy assets.  These efforts not only save money by making energy use more efficient, but also contribute substantially to reducing the environmental impact of powering our electricity-hungry modern world.

The discussions that took place during the event showed how right Russ was.  Each speaker and panelist contributed new ideas and told the audience – many of them top technologists and energy management executives themselves – things they didn’t know.  “Connect” was indeed the most appropriate name possible for Universal mCloud’s inaugural industry conference.

Proactive Investors joined other attendees in Las Vegas for mCloud Connect in the last week of September, and below we present the Top 5 takeaways, plus a selection of quotes from the speakers.

“THE SENSOR ECONOMY IS ARRIVING”

John Picard, founder and Chief Executive Officer of environmental and sustainability consulting firm John Picard & Associates, kicked off mCloud Connect 2018 with a keynote looking at the past as window to the future.  Picard is one of the world’s foremost experts when it comes to incorporating sustainability practices into building design and told the conference that we are entering an age in which sensors sending information back to AI platforms will be commonplace, as innovative companies incorporate them into new products.

Kenneth Cooke from the Business Networks group at Canadian telecommunications giant TELUS drove this point home in different ways, but particularly powerfully with his suggestion that within two years there will be 27 billion connected devices around the world.

For Universal mCloud and many of the conference speakers, one of the main promises of AI is that it will enable workers to be better at what they do, as they’ll have an abundance of properly analyzed data at their fingertips when they need to solve a problem.  And much of that data will exist because those billions of sensors are working 24/7 to create it.

Andrew Chrostowski, Chief Operating Officer, RealWear Inc.

“We are spending millions and millions of dollars to connect things.  We’re putting data and sensors in everything from the grid to manufacturing to pumps to valves to what have you.  All of that’s being collected and being put into data lakes and analyzed.  The future is that all that data being captured and then analyzed, but then being provided – those analytics – back to a human worker at the point of time connected to that information when he or she needs to use it.  I think that’s the ultimate point of where we’re going to be in the not-too-distant future.  I think we’re talking a five-year horizon, not a 20-year horizon, in terms of the way in which this is accelerating.  That’s what I see, is a population of everyone being able to learn faster, do more complex activities sooner, and, frankly, deal with some of the problems that we get with skilled workers not being available to do some of the jobs that are out there today.”

AI IS NOT A THREAT TO WORKERS, BUT RATHER WILL ENABLE THEM TO BE BETTER AT THEIR JOBS, SAFER AND MORE SATISFIED

A prevalent opinion in society seems to be that as machines get smarter and more independently capable, they will replace humans in the workplace.  mCloud Connect 2018 participants see a different future, one where artificial intelligence and other technologies enable people to perform work more efficiently, and in some cases even to obtain employment that, based on their skills, they would not otherwise have access to.  In short, technology is an enabler of humans, not a replacement for them.

Brian Walser, Managing Director, Walser Solutions Group

“I work with some of the guys and, basically, they say ‘I don’t want to work for a company that doesn’t have technology.  I don’t want that – that’s a disincentive.’  So, if you can enable them with this technology, it actually makes it much more attractive.  It changes the way they perceive their jobs.  I hate to say it this way, but ‘I’m not just a grease monkey turning a wrench.  I am a knowledge worker, and I bring huge value to the equation and I can solve your problems.’  I think that really enhances the value to a lot of these guys.”

YOU HAVE TO KNOW WHAT AI IS TO MOVE FORWARD WITH PROPER IMPLEMENTATION

A point made by multiple conference participants was that we are still very (very, very) early in the cycle of AI adoption and related innovation.  Interestingly, the concept of artificial intelligence has been around for decades but is only now able to gather real momentum thanks to affordable computing power and the proliferation of data-gathering sensors.  Many companies actually possess lots of data already, but it is not well organized and they don’t know exactly what to do with it.  So, what is AI precisely…?

James Parle, Chief Executive Officer, Muir Data Systems

“AI has been around as an idea, as a technology, for many years.  It goes back to something like the 1950s, and we’ve seen a real surge in its implementation.  There are a number of reasons that come to mind, but I’ll highlight three.  There have been improvements in the algorithms that are being used for these technologies, and many of you have heard this but it plays back into AI pretty directly, which is that processing power is going up dramatically.  GPUs – graphical processing units – are coming down in cost.  John Picard talked about Nvidia, and Nvidia’s hardware plays a key role in a lot of processing that goes on within AI.  And the third piece is the abundance of data, so cheap sensors, smart systems, and generating huge amounts of data that we are having trouble processing.”

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“What separates these tools, in particular versus a normal analytics package – say you have a dashboard and you have some analytics running.  What separates that from AI is that AI has the ability to improve over time, it has the ability to learn, it has the ability to rewrite some of its own code.  And if I just set up something that is looking at a trend analysis, that is just weighting the latest data versus the old, it is not actually getting better over time, and that is one of the critical factors here.  These tools not only allow you to deal with the volumes of data but do it in a way that your organization gets more efficient and likely to have larger returns as the data set grows and tools get ever more useful.”

NEW BUILDINGS MUST BE BUILT WITH A VIEW TO ACCOMMODATING FUTURE TECHNOLOGIES

On one level this is hardly a revelation, but the point made at the conference is that technology is advancing quickly, and modes of work are changing as millennials come to represent a greater percentage of the workforce.  As such, when new buildings go up, more thought than ever needs to go into their design to ensure that they can keep up with the times with minimal future effort.  John Picard, for example, spoke about a building he designed that used CAT 6 cable for all of its wiring, supporting both electricity and data flow.  The building is low-voltage, DC powered, boasts net zero energy consumption, and is proudly occupied by a prominent software company.

Jim Moore, Project Manager, Jones Lang LaSalle

“What a lot of owners are really interested in today is the future of work, and we haven’t touched on that much at all.  But the future of work is really, really different.  Before us, John talked about young people and what they want.  We’ve got some offices in our own buildings in Chicago – for you guys I use the term Google Space.  It is not quite that far out there.  We have coffee bars, it’s much more open, we talk about this transient stuff.  I’m over the 50 mark and I like to have a desk that I can go to.  But the world is changing.  If I were to talk about one thing, if you want to think 5 years, 10 years down the road, you’re going to see more of that environment.  We talk about WeWork – research that a little bit.  If I was thinking futuristically, I would think about what the owners want to see.  They are wanting you to help guide them toward that future building that is going to last 5, 10, 15 years down the road.”

RUSS MCMEEKIN PULLS IT ALL TOGETHER

Even for attendees not focused on energy management in their careers, the ideas shared at mCloud Connect 2018 were thought-provoking and the vision presented for the future – again, notwithstanding that it focused on the niche of energy management – highly compelling.  Universal mCloud’s blend of AI, 3D and augmented reality tools – a perfect example of the Internet of Things – is already making a meaningful difference in energy consumption for some of the biggest brand names in the world.  And 2019 looks set to be the year in which the potential synergies from carefully fitting all of these different technologies together take operations at mCloud to a new level.

Russ McMeekin closed mCloud Connect 2018 with a Fireside Chat in which he addressed questions from conference host Sarah Backhouse, and more than a few queries from members of the audience.  We close our 5 Takeaways with some of Russ’s most captivating ideas.

“We are in the sustainable movement because we figured out where to find the pain points to make money, whereas John Picard’s take on sustainability is to save the planet.  And they’re not at opposite ends.  In fact, they complement each other.”

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“If a gigawatt of energy worldwide is produced more efficiently because of our AI, that is the equivalent of a nuclear power plant.  That’s a lot of energy that we have contributed to in this sustainability movement.  If we can drive down 10% of the use of energy in Bank of America, Starbucks, Cinemark and across the fleet – the average building is probably using 500,000 kilowatt hours, I’m guessing.  You add up 3,000 buildings and reduce it 10%.  You add up the number of kilowatt hours and that’s the number of power plants you don’t need.  So, are we playing in that movement?  Absolutely.  The fifth fuel, as John and I like to call it.  The fifth fuel is just simply, don’t use it.  Don’t use it in the first place, and you don’t need to produce it.”

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“We see the number of assets either getting older or more complicated – it’s one or the other.  If you’re new you’re more complicated, more sophisticated.  If you’re old, you need more work.  So, what we see is the complement to make that match.  And so not limit – the wrench will never turn itself, the guitar will never tune itself, the airplane still needs a mechanic.  It may not need a pilot, but it certainly needs a mechanic.  That’s the way we think of it.”

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“Everyone has to have something that gets them pretty excited.  If mCloud could be the bridge, that could be the blue collar worker, the worker economy a la the technical labour force – the non-degree technical labour force out in the field – back to the central command center of the company, and it happens right out of school, and that occurs seamlessly.  And, basically, you graduate from high school, you become an HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning) technician, and you pick up one of those things and everything works, and the assets are connected. 

 If that can be achieved in the next five years, that to me would be a huge victory.  If we could see the domestic worker economy be that simple.  Because it should be that simple.  I went to high school, and I can read and write, and I can add.  I don’t want to be an engineer at MIT or Stanford.  I want to be an HVAC technician and I’m out there fixing stuff.  That would be brilliant.  That would be super brilliant, and that’s our goal.”

THE TAKEAWAY FOR UNIVERSAL MCLOUD

Speakers seemed united in the opinion that while AI and other evolving technologies are already having a significant influence on energy management and other industrial fields, we are in the early innings in terms of the volume and importance of achievements that lie ahead.  Efficiencies in production (particularly for wind turbines in the case of Universal mCloud, thanks to related technology it possesses), end-use and energy asset maintenance are all sectors in which Universal mCloud has developed or acquired technology that is highly competitive, if not class-leading.  Its technologies tie into every theme introduced at the conference: commercial building design, supporting workers out in the field and in the control center, and making the pathway from power production to final user more efficient at every point possible.

A Universal mCloud-specific topic was the way that the company is acquiring entities and technologies that fit its vision in the manner that a private company in Silicon Valley might, but doing so as a public company listed in Canada.  Russ commented that Universal mCloud was akin to “a bigger, sophisticated tech company inside the skeleton of a microcap.”  Consensus among financial and other professionals in the audience seemed to be that 2018 was the year of putting the pieces together, while 2019 should see synergies fully reveal themselves and the Universal mCloud strategy begin to gather some serious momentum.

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