In this episode of the Laptop Weekly Downtime Add podcast, Clare McDonald, Brian McKenna and Caroline Donnelly examine the 2021 A-degree and GCSE computing final results, what algorithms are and are not good for, and the h2o usage routines of datacentres, and their environmental impact.

Clare opens up the episode with an account of the most modern A-stage and GCSE effects in England, Wales and Northern Eire – a bumper crop of test final results which are typically a bit a lot more spaced out.

This year’s effects have been algorithm-cost-free, contrary to, to begin with, the 2020 outcomes. But not cost-free of their typical class bias: personal school learners did even far better than typical.

Clare notes the demanding Covid context for this year’s pupils. Regardless of that, there was a increased-accomplished established of A-degree computing benefits. There was a increase in the range of pupils using A-amount computing: 13,829 pupils in the United kingdom took computing at A-level, an improve from 12,428 entrants the previous 12 months.

There was a year-on-yr improve in the range of girls using A-amount computing but also, worryingly, a fall in the quantities taking GCSE. On the other hand, women are performing improved. For women, 25.7% attained an A* outcome, an maximize from 17.8% past calendar year while only 18.9% of boys obtained an A* level quality, an increase from 13.1% very last calendar year. For the first time, ladies also outperformed boys in mathematics in A-stages and GCSEs.

Algos – what are they superior for?

The episode then moves on to a similar dialogue about what algorithms and artificial intelligence (AI) are great for, if they are not very good for tests.

Brian touches on the A-degree and Scottish Highers debacle of 2021, when algorithms acquired themselves a negative title. This was reviewed on the podcast just about just a 12 months in the past.

The complete fiasco was pointed out in a extra current BCS report, Priorities for the countrywide AI method, written by Bill Mitchell, the BCS’s director of coverage.

The report suggests the British isles can just take an international guide in AI ethics if it cultivates a a lot more diverse workforce, like individuals from non-STEM backgrounds. It refers back again to the Ofqual algorithm that was made use of to estimate GCSE and A-stage grades in 2020. In the BCS author’s words and phrases, this led to a “widespread public mistrust in algorithms producing large stakes choices about people”.

The report registers that “public have confidence in in AI and algorithmic techniques in normal has been very seriously eroded by occasions for the duration of the pandemic”, as shown in two nationwide surveys by YouGov commissioned in 2020 by BCS. These located that:

  • More than half (53%) of United kingdom older people have no faith in any organisation to use algorithms when building judgements about them, in difficulties ranging from training to welfare choices.
  • 63% of United kingdom adults disagree with the statement “Students graduating with a computer system science college diploma are certified to produce application that can make existence selections about people”.

The BCS report itself will feed into the government’s AI method, which will be revealed later this calendar year.

On the podcast, Brian says the headline in it for him was the concept that for the public to believe in AI systems, we want a broader established of persons creating them in the to start with location. Not that it is all bleak for algorithms. Where would we be with out the advice algorithms of the streaming companies we have depended on so much around the pandemic?

Brian then poses the question: are there regions of human life that really should just be absolutely free of algorithms?

Caroline cites a person location that should be off-boundaries to algorithms and knowledge analytics: Queen of Pop Beyoncé’s vocation, as illustrated in an job interview in Harper’s Bazaar. Beyoncé’s refusal of knowledge analytics-dependent information relating to the 2008 album I am…Sasha Intense is an exemplar of retaining with “the human sensation and spirit and emotion in my conclusion-making”, she states.

The workforce talk about some other areas wherever AI could be inappropriate, this kind of as recruiting, but also could be effective. We could, even with the enormous hoopla, be in the early days of how AI will completely transform human life. That is, if human beings survive climate catastrophe.

Drinking water and datacentres: a make any difference underneath-mentioned in local climate modify debates

In the third portion of the episode, Caroline discloses some get the job done progress on the subject matter of the water intake routines of datacentres, and what these could necessarily mean for the atmosphere in the context of the escalating local weather crisis.

She reveals how her awareness was originally drawn to this theme by a remark at a trade show in 2016 – that it is not acknowledged how substantially h2o is applied by datacentre operators in their cooling units.

Datacentres have arrive underneath scrutiny for their environmental impact and sustainability initiatives along 3 dimensions, describes Caroline: how a great deal energy datacentres use, how substantially of that electric power is renewable, and how massive the carbon footprint of datacentres is. Progress has been produced on all those three fronts.

There is a extensively made use of business metric for measuring the electricity usage of datacentres, PUE – the electric power use efficiency rating.

And even though datacentre operators are fine about disclosing their PUEs, they are oddly silent about one more measure – their h2o usage usefulness. There is a metric, posted in 2010, that the datacentre business could use for the drinking water usage efficiency of their datacentres – WUE (h2o use success). But it is either not becoming used, or the scores are not becoming released. Facebook is a partial exception, but that is of minimal instant to company IT purchasers.

Caroline cites an Uptime Institute survey from 2020 that explained 50 percent of all datacentre operators do not evaluate how substantially water they use. Could this be for the reason that operators are employing masses of drinking water to deflate their PUE scores?

H2o is a cherished resource, primarily so in locations that are ever more issue to drought, this kind of as California, or which experience a common pressure on the availability of ingesting drinking water. Individuals include international locations these types of as Spain and Singapore. And that roster of water-pressured places could get larger in yrs to appear – datacentres are very long-expression attributes of the landscape.

Clean air cooling could be part of the solution to the around-use of water. Another could be the datacentre-on-a-barge method getting pioneered by Nautilus Facts.

It is early times for this subject, says Caroline: “Water is a thing that datacentre operators are not speaking about, but with climate change, and the risk of that starting to be even extra clear and actual than it earlier was, that will have to transform. And there wants to be additional tension on operators to be a lot more transparent about how what they do affects water materials.”

Podcast music courtesy of Joseph McDade


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