Sir Charles Kao, the inventor of fiber optics who won the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physics, passed away in Hong Kong on 23 September. Fiber Optics is seen as the kernel of broadband and internet over the past two decades, for its capability to disseminate a large quantity of digital data in no time. The growing inclination towards cloud computing may have mellowed this innovation involving a union between glass fiber and laser, but their merit will never be lost.
Importance of a fiber optic network in cloud computing
A typical precision medicine research institution processes more than 90 billion data points for each human genome sequence and analyzes 30 terabytes of genetic data to derive personalized treatment suggestions. These could not be achieved within a couples of hours at an estimated cost of US $1000 without a high-bandwidth internet connectivity.
A vigorous and dynamic fiber optic network is like a set of healthy arteries transporting blood and nutrients vital for an AI or brain of the cloud while ensuring all other parts are strategically and ideally connected.
Low interest in high speed internet
However, fiber optics is not highly sought-after. The 2017 Europe’s Digital Progress Report published by the European Commission shows that fiber to the premises (FTTP) (i.e. fiber optic as the medium of transmitting internet access from service providers to users) coverage for its member countries is 24%.
In the US, the fiber optic penetrations rates is 9.4%, about one-eighth of Japan and it also has one of the slowest internet speeds in the World, at 20Mbps, falling behind countries like Singapore, Switzerland, and South Korea.
The tricky conglomeration of fiber optics and AI – Sir Charles Kao and his legacy
While the relatively low reliance on fiber optics and high speed internet may not pose an imminent challenge, in the long term it could mean that an AI-driven medical sector will only be available to a restricted group of people, creating a so-called “digital divide”.
Ironically, telecommunication tycoon Verizon employs AI to monitor customers’ feedback on the speed and quality of internet and fiber optics has been a part of many medical instruments. Yet, we have underestimated the power we need to synthesize fiber optics and AI.
The discreetly non-discrete relationship of fiber optics and AI not only highlight the lasting impact of Sir Charles Kao and his groundbreaking work, but also the disparity in modern day hardware and software demand.
Reporting by Hazel Tang
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A science writer with data background and an interest in current affair, culture and arts; a no-med from an (almost) all-med family. Follow on Twitter.