Gorillas, militias, and Bitcoin: Why Congo’s most famous national park is betting big on crypto
The AK-47 is heavy with extra clips strapped together, jungle style, but the man holding it doesn’t flinch as he patrols the heavily forested mountain.
Here in eastern Congo, where the Soviet throwback weapon costs just $40 on the black market, militias use its dawa, or magic, to take land, timber, ivory, and the rare minerals that have long been this region’s promise and its curse.
But this man in fatigues is not militia. He’s a rare authority figure in a largely lawless region—a ranger who usually patrols Virunga National Park, a place famous for endangered mountain gorillas.
Today, though, his job is different. In Luviro, a hamlet just outside the park, he is guarding the world’s first known Bitcoin mine operated by a national park. One that runs on clean energy. It’s a gamble that’s energized many who work in and around the park—and invited skepticism from experts who wonder what crypto has to do with conservation.
On this muggy day in late March 2022, the guard is pacing in front of 10 shipping containers that are filled with thousands of powerful computers. They hum in the midday heat. Suddenly, something shiny flashes over the horizon. He adjusts his beret and hustles to secure a nearby dirt runway as a Cessna circles.
The plane soon touches down on a perilously steep and short landing strip, and out steps its pilot, Emmanuel de Merode, the 52-year-old director of the park, here for a routine inspection. De Merode grabs the leather strap of his bag with one hand; the other salutes the rangers, who puff out their chests and stand stick straight in the sun. Clean-shaven and lightly graying, he’s the only person in sight without a weapon. Behind him, the wings of the Cessna are pockmarked with bullet holes and patched with duct tape.
De Merode strides past a barking bush dog and into one of the containers—40 feet long and chrome green. Inside, surrounded by wiring, laptops, and body odor, a team of technicians in mesh vests monitors the mine.
All day, these machines grind away at complex math problems and are rewarded with a digital currency that’s worth thousands of dollars. They’re powered by the massive hydroelectric power station perched on this same mountain, making these containers a cathedral of 21st-century green tech, surrounded by greener rainforest.
In many ways, this operation’s mere existence defies the odds. Just being in a volatile region known for corruption and rising deforestation, where foreign investment is as rare as electrical grids and stable government, poses a host of problems. “Problems of internet connection, climate conditions which influence production, working in isolation,” lists Jonas Mbavumoja, 24, a graduate of the nearby University of Goma who staffs the mine. There’s also the threat from dozens of nearby rebel groups. Violence is frequent here, and years of militia activity, missile strikes, and machete attacks have left deep trauma.
This is a pivotal moment for Africa’s oldest protected park. After four years of disease outbreaks, pandemic lockdowns, and bloodshed, Virunga badly needs money, and the region badly needs opportunities. The Congolese government provides around just 1% of the park’s operating budget, leaving it to largely fend for itself. That’s why Virunga is betting big on cryptocurrency.
Bitcoin, though, isn’t usually associated with conservation or community development. It’s often known for the opposite. But here it’s part of a larger plan to turn Virunga’s coveted natural resources—from land to hydropower—into benefits for both the park and locals. While operations like this mine may be unconventional, they’re profitable and they’re green.
Proceeds from the sale of Bitcoin are already helping to pay for park salaries, as well as its infrastructure projects like roads and water pumping stations. Elsewhere, power from other park hydro plants supports modest business development.
This is how you build a sustainable economy tied to park resources, de Merode says, even though the mine itself is something of a happy accident.
“We built the power plant and figured we’d build the network gradually,” he explains. “Then we had to shut down tourism in 2018 because of kidnappings [by rebels]. Then in 2019, we had to shut down tourism because of Ebola. And 2020—the rest is history with covid. For four years, all of our tourism revenue—it used to be 40% of park revenue—it collapsed.”
He adds, “It’s not something we expected, but we had to work out a solution. Otherwise we would have gone bust as a national park.”
By: Adam Popescu
Title: Gorillas, militias, and Bitcoin: Why Congo’s most famous national park is betting big on crypto
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2023/01/13/1066820/cryptocurrency-bitcoin-mining-congo-virunga-national-park/
Published Date: Fri, 13 Jan 2023 10:00:00 +0000
Sustainability starts with the data center
When asked why he targeted banks, notorious criminal Willie Sutton reportedly answered, “Because that’s where the money is.” Similarly, when thoughtful organizations target sustainability, they look to their data centers—because that’s where the carbon emissions are.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) attributes about 1.5% of total global electricity use to data centers and data transmission networks. This figure is much higher, however, in countries with booming data storage sectors: in Ireland, 18% of electricity consumption was attributable to data centers in 2022, and in Denmark, it is projected to reach 15% by 2030. And while there have been encouraging shifts toward green-energy sources and increased deployment of energy-efficient hardware and software, organizations need to accelerate their data center sustainability efforts to meet ambitious net-zero targets.
For data center operators, options for boosting sustainability include shifting energy sources, upgrading physical infrastructure and hardware, improving and automating workflows, and updating the software that manages data center storage. Hitachi Vantara estimates that emissions attributable to data storage infrastructure can be reduced as much as 96% by using a combination of these approaches.
Critics might counter that, though data center decarbonization is a worthy social goal, it also imposes expenses that a company focused on its bottom line can ill afford. This, however, is a shortsighted view.
Data center decarbonization initiatives can provide an impetus that enables organizations to modernize, optimize, and automate their data centers. This leads directly to improved performance of mission-critical applications, as well as a smaller, denser, more efficient data center footprint—which then creates savings via reduced energy costs. And modern data storage and management solutions, beyond supporting sustainability, also create a unified platform for innovation and new business models through advanced data analytics, machine learning, and AI.
Dave Pearson, research vice president at IDC, says, “Decarbonization and the more efficient energy utilization of the data center are supported by the same technologies that support data center modernization. Modernization has sustainability goals, but obviously it provides all kinds of business benefits, including enabling data analytics and better business processes.”
Download the full report.
This content was produced by Insights, the custom content arm of MIT Technology Review. It was not written by MIT Technology Review’s editorial staff.
By: MIT Technology Review Insights
Title: Sustainability starts with the data center
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2023/11/30/1083909/sustainability-starts-with-the-data-center/
Published Date: Thu, 30 Nov 2023 15:03:00 +0000
The Download: the year’s most-read climate stories, and Amazon’s chatbot
This is today’s edition of The Download our weekday newsletter that provides a daily dose of what’s going on in the world of technology.
A look back at the year’s most-read climate stories
2023 has been a big year for climate news. Wildfires, floods and heatwaves displaced and killed thousands of people across the world as extreme weather events worsened, and scientists have concluded the past 12 months were the hottest since records began.
But it’s not exclusively bad news. Our climate experts James Temple and Casey Crownhart have been covering the most promising technologies that could make a difference. Take a look back over some of MIT Technology Review’s most-read climate stories of the year—and make sure you keep up-to-date with all the latest news by subscribing to The Spark, our weekly climate and energy tech newsletter.
+ This geothermal startup showed its wells can be used like a giant underground battery. If Fervo Energy’s field results work at commercial scale, it could become cheaper and easier to green the grid. Read the full story.
+ Helion Energy, a startup backed by Sam Altman, says its first fusion plant is five years away. Experts aren’t so sure.
+ Check out our handy explainer of how heat pumps work—and how they could save you money in the process.
+ Spraying iron particles above the ocean could help to fight climate change. But scientists say far more research still needs to be done. Read the full story.
+ Yes, we have enough materials to power the world with renewable energy. We won’t run out of key ingredients for climate action, but mining comes with social and environmental ramifications. Read the full story.
+ Nonprofits and academic groups are working to help climate-vulnerable regions take part in the high-stakes global debate over solar geoengineering.
+ We were promised smaller nuclear reactors. Where are they? Small modular reactors could be quicker and cheaper to build. Now, they’ve reached a major milestone. Read the full story.
I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.
1 Amazon has launched a new AI chatbot called Q
Not to be confused with OpenAI’s rumored Q* AI model. (NYT $)
It’s designed to help code and manage cloud software for businesses. (Wired $)
2 Elon Musk boosted the dangerous pizzagate conspiracy theory
It’s the latest in a string of long-debunked theories he’s given oxygen to on X. (WP $)
It’s no wonder the platform can’t keep its advertisers. (Motherboard)
3 Apple is winding down its Goldman Sachs credit card partnership
But it’s unclear whether this spells the end of Apple’s foray into finance or not. (WSJ $)
4 There’s no evidence the internet is harming your mental health
Contrary to popular opinion. (FT $)
Your kid’s phone probably isn’t causing depression. (MIT Technology Review)
5 Amazon is disrupting rural mail services across America
Postal workers have been instructed to prioritize the retail giant’s package deliveries, and customers aren’t happy about it. (WP $)
6 High-profile women in AI don’t want to join OpenAI’s all-male board
The board reflects the wider problems within the AI industry. (Wired $)
A prominent female tech influencer’s accounts are run by a man. (404 Media)
Why can’t tech fix its gender problem? (MIT Technology Review)
7 America loves hydrogen
It’s an attractive green energy—but only if it can be made efficiently. (The Atlantic $)
When hydrogen will help climate change—and when it won’t. (MIT Technology Review)
8 US soldiers are sharing their horrific barracks on a new app
Hots&Cots is full of images of dirty lodgings and substandard living conditions. (Motherboard)
The future of military tech is heavily AI-based. (Vox)
9 The world’s first AI singer is no Taylor Swift
Her first release is deeply basic, to put it kindly. (Insider $)
10 Those Instagrammable offices aren’t fooling anyone
Workers don’t want to go back, and photogenic spaces won’t change that. (NYT $)
Quote of the day
“The list of abuses is endless…[X] has become a vast global sewer.”
—Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, explains why she’s leaving X after 14 years on the platform, Insider reports.
The big story
How robotic honeybees and hives could help the species fight back
Something was wrong, but Thomas Schmickl couldn’t put his finger on it. It was 2007, and the Austrian biologist was spending part of the year at East Tennessee State
By: Rhiannon Williams
Title: The Download: the year’s most-read climate stories, and Amazon’s chatbot
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2023/11/29/1084048/the-download-the-years-most-read-climate-stories-and-amazons-chatbot/
Published Date: Wed, 29 Nov 2023 13:10:00 +0000
Procurement in the age of AI
Procurement professionals face challenges more daunting than ever. Recent years’ supply chain disruptions and rising costs, deeply familiar to consumers, have had an outsize impact on business buying. At the same time, procurement teams are under increasing pressure to supply their businesses while also contributing to business growth and profitability.
Deloitte’s 2023 Global Chief Procurement Officer Survey reveals that procurement teams are now being called upon to address a broader range of enterprise priorities. These range from driving operational efficiency (74% of respondents) and enhancing corporate social responsibility (72%) to improving margins via cost reduction (71%).
To meet these rising expectations, many procurement teams are turning to advanced analytics, AI, and machine learning (ML) to transform the way they make smart business buying decisions and create value for the organization.
New procurement capabilities unlocked by AI
AI and ML tools have long helped procurement teams automate mundane and manual procurement processes, allowing them to focus on more strategic initiatives. But recent advances in natural language processing (NLP), pattern recognition, cognitive analytics, and large language models (LLMs) are “opening up opportunities to make procurement more efficient and effective,” says Julie Scully, director of software development at Amazon Business.
The good news is procurement teams are already well-positioned to capitalize on these technological advances. Their access to rich data sources, ranging from contracts to invoices, enables AI/ML solutions that can illuminate the insights contained within this data. Acting on these insights unlocks new capabilities that can enhance decision-making and improve spending patterns across the organization.
Predicting supply chain disruptions. In an era of constant supply chain disruptions, procurement teams are often faced with inconsistent item availability, which can negatively impact employee and customer experience. Indeed, the Deloitte 2023 Global Chief Procurement Officer survey finds that only 25% of firms are able to identify supply disruptions promptly “to a large extent.”
AI tools can help address this issue by recognizing patterns that indicate an emerging supply shortage and automatically recommending two or three product alternatives to business buyers, thereby preventing supply disruptions. These predictive capabilities also empower procurement teams to establish buying policies that proactively account for items that are more likely to go out of stock.
Answering pressing questions quickly. Sifting through data to understand the cause of a supply chain disruption, product defect, or other risk is time-consuming for a procurement professional. LLM-powered chatbots can streamline these processes by understanding complex queries about orders and “putting together a nuanced answer,” says Scully. “AI can query a wide variety of sources to fully answer a question quickly and in a way that feels natural and understandable.” In addition to providing fast and accurate answers to pressing questions, AI promises to reduce the need to explain procurement issues eventually. Instead, it will proactively analyze orders, buying patterns, and the current situation to provide instant support.
Offering customized recommendations. As business buyers increasingly demand personalized experiences, procurement officers seek ways to customize their interactions with business procurement systems. Scully provides the example of an employee tasked with hosting a holiday party for 150 employees who needs help deciding what to order. An AI-based procurement tool posed that scenario, she says, could generate a proposed shopping cart, sifting through “millions and billions of data points to recommend and suggest items that the employee may not have even thought of.”
Better yet, she adds, “as we get into really large language models, AI/ML can help answer questions or help buy items you didn’t even know you needed by understanding your particular situation in a much more detailed way.”
Influencing compliance spend. Procurement professionals aim to balance employees’ freedom to purchase the items they need with minimal intervention. However, self-sufficiency should not come at the cost of proper spend
By: MIT Technology Review Insights
Title: Procurement in the age of AI
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2023/11/28/1083628/procurement-in-the-age-of-ai/
Published Date: Tue, 28 Nov 2023 16:00:00 +0000
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