The Lessons of Thailand’s Flood

The hard drive industry shows that responding to disasters can be more important than preventing them

4 min read
Thai Navy divers were called in to salvage disk drive manufacturing tools. Their efforts contributed to a quick recovery.
Photo: Western Digital

photo showing workers at Western Digital scrub away the residue of a 2011 flood

Photo: Western Digital
Washed Away: Workers at Western Digital scrub away the residue of a 2011 flood that inundated this hard drive factory and hobbled the global PC industry.

Tawan Suppapunt stands outside the wall of the main building at Western Digital’s Bang Pa-In factory, where he is managing director of hard disk drive operations, pointing to a blue line above his shoulder. The line marks the high-water point—1.8 meters from the ground—of the October 2011 flood that devastated this part of southern Thailand. Floodwaters inundated this plant, the surrounding roads, and many other factories in the region for more than a month. Outside the country, the severe shortage of hard drives caused prices to spike and put a big dent in the profit of global PC, chip, and memory companies.


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The Future of Deep Learning Is Photonic

Computing with light could slash the energy needs of neural networks

10 min read

This computer rendering depicts the pattern on a photonic chip that the author and his colleagues have devised for performing neural-network calculations using light.

Alexander Sludds
DarkBlue1

Think of the many tasks to which computers are being applied that in the not-so-distant past required human intuition. Computers routinely identify objects in images, transcribe speech, translate between languages, diagnose medical conditions, play complex games, and drive cars.

The technique that has empowered these stunning developments is called deep learning, a term that refers to mathematical models known as artificial neural networks. Deep learning is a subfield of machine learning, a branch of computer science based on fitting complex models to data.

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