Lloyd Treinish, an IBM Distinguished Engineer, was a guest speaker at last year’s TED@IBM. He leads the global environmental science team at IBM Research where he pioneered scientifically based services for environmentally sensitive business operations, including issues related to weather, water, energy, climate and sustainability. In this TED@IBM lookback, Lloyd shares with us how accurate weather predictions can impact the world in ways that could surprise us.
I had the great honor last year to speak at the TED@IBM event about the challenge and importance of weather forecasting. It has been a personal and professional passion for much of my career, and is now more relevant than ever. But I never expected this to happen.
I started my career in academia studying planetary astronomy with an intention to focus on the atmospheres of other planets. I dreamed of the stars since I was a child. So, it was only natural that I ended up working at NASA. However, the opportunities in my chosen field were too limited. I began to work in areas closer to our home planet, and the technology to enable such studies. During that time, I had an inspiration in 1989 from the movie “Back to the Future Part II”, which took place on October 21, 2015. There is scene in the movie that references how amazing the weather service was in the future. In a remarkable coincidence, this date was just a few days after my TED@IBM talk last year.
On a mission to regain public trust in weather forecasting, Treinish shares how better data modeling can do everything from reduce flight delays to save lives in the face of natural disaster.
I joined IBM Research in 1990 to focus on the computing and visualization technology to enable scientists and engineers to better simulate and understand the fields that they study. This led to collaboration with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), focused on advances in weather forecasting. I never looked back. We created “Deep Thunder” for hyper-local and accurate weather forecasts that was cited as one of the 100 Icons of Progress for IBM’s Centennial. And we began to explore the business of weather.
We had many opportunities to help clients make better decisions because we could better predict the impact of weather like when and where the electricity would go out and how to deploy crews to restore it, or streets would flood or farmers should irrigate. We could say when there won’t be a blizzard hitting a major metropolitan area or how to actually use energy from solar panels and wind turbines to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.
Many IBMers saw the impact that weather has on our economy and society and role of such forecasts. Early this year, IBM acquired The Weather Company. Now, such ideas could be considered for our clients around the world. To further this vision, my team and I moved from IBM Research to The Weather Company group in IBM in July. Because of the importance of good forecasts that are actionable, we do believe that IBM can really change the world.
When I started with IBM, I expected that my career would focus on technology. I never thought that I would be able to go back to the science that was my true passion. While I may have dreamed that weather would be a major theme for IBM and its clients, I never expected it to really happen. Only at IBM, have I been able to pursue a field that not only matters to me, but matters to the world. And the opportunities are only getting brighter.
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