There's no doubt technology has an important role to play in the development of society, but it also has a major impact on the environment. In the final part of an in-depth interview with ARN's Brian Corrigan, Intel's Philip Cronin suggests improved technology is vital but needn't cost the earth.
The percentage of users who need the power of dual-core and quad-core processors is still relatively small and yet they will soon become industry standard. Would you agree technological development is outpacing user need?
No, I think it's a false premise to start with. We usually predicate that on simple task-driven models that haven't changed, rather than looking at new usage models. You take that discussion to the trading floor of the ASX and see if you get out with your jacket on. They will tell you they need more [processing power] because it's driving parts of their business.
Go to Fox Studios and talk to people at [digital production company] Animal Logic and they will tell you they want machines that can go faster. There's an MP Quad-Core product coming through now, not because we like it, although we do, but because there's demand for it.
Look at all the services that are being developed for industries such as healthcare and try putting them on the airwaves or on the data network and see what happens. The role of a company like Intel is to drive change and every time we do it there's enough of a market that will go and use new products for certain tasks. I do take your point that there are standard users doing repetitive tasks and only using 20 per cent of the power or software but the market will also evolve for them.
You touched on the role of technology within healthcare, which other major vendors like Microsoft and Cisco are also making a lot of noise about at the moment. What is Intel working on?
We've had a health team here for two years now with five people in it driving trials and proof-of-concepts. The healthcare industry in this country will double to 14 per cent of GDP [gross domestic product] spend just to keep up with people getting old. ICT has to intersect with health because we have to be more efficient and drive the cost down.
One of our current projects is the Mobile Clinical Assistant (MCA), which looks like a tablet PC but isn't. It's made by a company called Motion and has features we have designed as part of our health division to work within a hospital emergency theatre environment. It's got infrared, wireless, processing power, and applications running across it for patient record management. There are still issues that need to be addressed around connectivity, security and access.
The best trial we did was in the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital emergency room [in Sydney] during the Australian Grand Prix [in Melbourne]. We simulated a crash at the site using the MCA, infrared and RFID, with information going back and forward. The clinicians back at the hospital were able to make decisions for the patient remotely before the patient was put into an ambulance.
We are also doing some trials with the Royal Flying Doctors. It's very interesting stuff and a huge opportunity for the whole IT industry.
Power usage is one of the biggest environmental concerns within the IT industry today. What is the industry's role in controlling it?
We have taken the view at the manufacturing end that we need to reduce lead content. A lot of our factories are now striving towards a lead-free environment and reducing the chemicals used in the manufacturing process.
Then you think about where the product is being used and we are seeing power-down reducing electricity consumption of laptops by 40 per cent. There's also a huge effort to consolidate systems in datacentres with virtualisation.
The gigahertz race was fuelling a lot of power consumption because the faster you go, the more cooling you need. The realisation was that the trade-off for lower clock speeds were better performance and power reduction. We realised that if you reduce the clock speed by a factor of x, it reduces the power consumption required to drive the fans by x times x, and if you add that to the increased battery life there is less need to use power and savings are magnified again.
The last piece is closing the loop by addressing where the product goes. We don't manufacture the PCs but I have a keen interest in driving that agenda because I am on the board of the AIIA.
Whose responsibility is it to dispose of end-of-life equipment? We have a very efficient channel for delivering product so it could be used to take the product back. But there's obviously an expense involved, so do we need government legislation to introduce some kind of environment tax that would be built into the initial cost of a product?
The industry itself hasn't got that answer. The piece that's missing is how we get end-of-life product into the recycling chain in the same way that our paper, bottles and cans are. There's an industry built around it for TVs.
There are suggestions of a tax, which I was hot for at one point but it's more complicated than that I think. It's whether individual companies build a business around recycling IT hardware, and whether local councils make facilities available like they do for whitegoods collections.
The last piece of the jigsaw is once it's gone, where's it going? Is there enough of it happening for somebody to make a business out of it? If it was easy it would already be happening.