RUNWITHIT Synthetics’ Innovative Systems Modeling to “De-Risk the Future”


The scope and scale of the climate crisis demands decisionmakers consider complex resilience questions and impacts when planning and implementing transformational infrastructure investments. Myrna Bittner, the CEO and Founder of RUNWITHIT Synthetics, spoke with VX News about how her first-nation, woman-led company is using synthetic data to deliver live, at-scale 3D modeling that allows decision makers to “dial forward” to anticipate, prepare for, and mitigate vulnerabilities and potential problems arising from climate disasters, infrastructure and technology deployment, policy and behavior change, and more.

Myrna, since you will be participating at the VerdeXchange VX2022 Marketmakers’ conference later this month, elaborate on what RUNWITHIT Synthetics offers its many private and public clients? 

Myrna Bittner: In plain terms, we offer our clients a chance to dial forward some very sophisticated scenarios that involve people, systems, technologies, infrastructure, policy, weather, and even disaster events. When we dial these futures forward in a synthetic model, we produce data about impacts and outcomes. We can then use these insights to analyze, prepare, trial different mitigations, and really help people get better at that design, thinking about complex systems, and what we're going to need to put in place to solve some of the futures that that have yet to happen. 

Is there any similarity between RUNWITHIT’s scenario modeling and the old simulation game, Sim City? Elaborate on what your models capture and how they are created.   

What it looks like is a deep tech stack, which is behind the pretty visualization. It really is a combination of integrating different historical datasets. When we can get a chance to do that, it involves generating what we call synthetic entities. Like your Sim City, those are the people and the city systems that you manipulate. We look at different regions around the world, and we generate a never-identified population that has similar demographics and psychographics as to that population. Then, we use that living lab and confront them with unprecedented circumstances or scenarios. Those can be new hydrogen technologies or electrification. We then draw data and gain insight from how this synthetic population, businesses, and infrastructure respond. 

Southern California experiences earthquakes, fires, and other natural disasters. Is the afore-mentioned why clients retain RUNWITHIT Synthetics?   

Our very first client to ask us to do cities was in California, in Silicon Valley. We worked with Itron to create an environment, which was a synthetic Silicon Valley for the IoT World Expo keynote having to do with earthquakes. It was a conversation around cities investing in smart technologies for water and power management. That means smart meters and even sensors and devices to control gas flow to alert when there's issues with infrastructure. There are also questions like how can cities look forward to those same devices playing a role during unprecedented circumstances, for example, like an earthquake in Silicon Valley and the time to return to normal? How can we use those devices and data streams to help people evacuate safely? How can we use them to ensure that emergency responders know just as fast as the utility where the particular damage or danger is that they need to respond to? How can we connect systems that haven't been connected before, understand that opportunity, the value in resilience investment and prepare for disasters ahead of time? 

 Myrna, share with our readers your credentials.  

My credentials actually start as an art student and in Social Science and English. I thought I should do something practical, so I went to get an MBA. I realized that I likely wouldn't function well in large bureaucracy, but MBAs back then were a training program for working in large bureaucratic organizations.  

At that time, the internet was a year old, and it was really exciting to think about how we could use the internet to resolve communications issues. I started my first tech company between year one and two. We did live issue-resolution video conferencing, audio conferencing, and brainstorming for the internet. I did that for a few years, but was asked by an Australian billionaire if we could shift focus and start a research company to look into neural nets and 3D visualization, and very complex construction documents. This was around deep-sea submarine interconnects for the energy industry. That really formed some of the foundations of RUNWITHIT as we know it today.  

Being in artificial intelligence and 3d visualizations of artificial intelligence in the 90s gave us some of the fundamentals for the company we're in now for lean compute power. We had to be very clever and very crisp with execution. That has carried through and enabled us to do these massive scale simulation environments and synthetic models with relatively light on compute. 

In the middle, there was motherhood twice and a lot of consulting. I stepped out of the technology industry for a few years to raise some little people, but we kept getting asked to bring our synthetic models to bear on some very complex digital systems. In 2014, we just decided the world wasn't getting simpler, and people needed to have access to this type of tooling to figure out complex features. 

Elaborate, if you could, on the array of clients since 2014 that have used your services.  

INVIDI/AT&T is one of our largest clients, and we work with them in digital systems. We have all different types of device-based systems that we create synthetic models for. In 2019, when we started to do cities, we became involved and engaged with people like the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and the Toyota Mobility Foundation. Now, we're really seeing an uptick in municipalities. Municipal regions, districts, and their stakeholders are understanding that the solution isn't simple or siloed. Working together to bridge ecosystems, industries, and hubs can help them understand how they can solve problems. We do a lot of work with municipalities, strategic consultants who are advising municipalities, or utilities even. There are also some really interesting industry partners who are wanting to advantage themselves in a market by getting ahead of their futures. 

You were recently a participant in the Low-Carbon Hydrogen Accelerator. What can you share about that work and the work you're doing with EPRI and Shell in that field? 

We're working with Canada's first and largest hydrogen hub in the Edmonton region. What we bring is insight into building the demand side of the hydrogen economy. There are a lot of very sophisticated models about supply and production, but these models have to meet adoption and demand at some point. We have the ability to look at and characterize their regions, industry, transportation networks, workforce and skilling, and their susceptibility to market forces and policy incentives.  

The choices economies make aren't always entirely rational, and there is work we can do to help people understand, from the supply side, when that demand side is going to be there and how to connect with it. This is a vital part of the ROI risk for those investing in large projects. 

We were just announced as part of Greentown Labs with partners including Shell, EPRI, and Urban Future Labs. It’s all about hydrogen and making sure that the people who are producing can connect with the people who are distributing and consuming, which all has to have a certain amount of phasing. It has to be understood and supported by all parties in that ecosystem or we're going to be stuck in this chicken and egg paralysis. We've got really tight deadlines that everybody's chasing for decarbonization. 

The press announcement for the Greentown Labs work, reads, “Balancing energy security, sustainability, affordability, and equity presents complex challenges to investment technology industry in the implementation of energy transition to regions around the world.” Please elaborate on this new opportunity for the company. 

The opportunity, when we look at it, from an industry and a supply side, is to not only look at how they're going to be replacing what exists today, but how that replacement is going to address some of the most profound and critical issues that we're looking at when it comes to resilience. Energy needs to operate in an environment where it's more resilient for everybody. 

 Governments around the world are realizing that affordability is a huge part of their energy security and that this transition is going to be expensive. Who's going to pay? How much can the public or industry afford to participate? There's all of these interesting intersections and conversations that need to go on.  

Playing forward, the impact of those decisions is what we specialize in doing and providing that service that says, “this is the path you're going to pursue, let's dial that forward and understand what that looks like in the context of this city or this port to understand what the risk factors are in making that choice and the implications for your people, their lives and livelihoods.” 

With the severe drought in the American Southwest, has any entity sought the services of RUNWITHIT Synthetics for modeling water usage and conservation opportunities?  

We’re just starting. We're currently modeling a municipal region of 13 different districts. They are interested in water efficiency, water conservation, and how they're going to mitigate storm events.  

Just last week, we were in conversations with another district that is looking at that as being one of their number one priorities because by 2070, all of the municipalities around this one major center are going to be out of water. It's something that that they need to begin to look at now to understand and communicate the implications in their city, find opportunities to mitigate and begin to tackle things like water loss due to leakage, or how and where they can discover more capacity. 

What explains why the City of Edmonton has birthed RUNWITHIT Synthetics, EPCOR, and a number of other successful and innovative environmental companies? 

I usually quip that it's really cold, so we can spend a lot of time inside during our winter. I think there's really an unbounded ecosystem here where they heavily promote and support us to enter markets around the world. We get a lot of perspective from that market entry about world issues and how things look different in different places.  

There's also a huge post-secondary capacity that we have here. People come from all over the world to study. We have a lot of artificial intelligence capabilities here at the universities in Alberta. We have this incredibly intelligent workforce of people who are graduating and with a lot of ideas. There's also nobody around to tell me I can't do this, so I just keep going. 

Lastly, the upcoming VerdeXchange VX2022 Conference will focus on how best to invest equitably incoming infrastructure funding from the US federal government and the private sector. How might RUNWITHIT Synthetics assist those responsible for such investment?   

There are some really interesting initiatives that we’re involved in now around ensuring that research meets operational requirements and that future plans address equity and sustainability in populations and cities. Some of the profound work that we've been engaged in lately is being that supplier at the table that enables people to converge their very sophisticated models and data from their subject matter experts. We get to add or synthesize that human element that is typically missing from the analysis and visualize it in compelling and accessible ways. 


In this way, we can make equity visible.  When you make an investment in building back better, who benefits? Where is the advantage and equity? And you can’t unsee it as the scenarios come to life in a modelled city.  It’s really important because when you begin to look at, for example, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles on freeways, it is not just a matter of technology implementation.  There's social justice issues about who lives around those freeways and what reducing emissions will mean to their health outcomes, such as the 710 to the ports. Our work is about the convergence of people in the futures we are designing and ensuring that we are addressing all available opportunities for better futures for all.


“…we offer our clients a chance to dial forward some very sophisticated scenarios that involve usually people, systems, technologies, infrastructure, policy, weather, and even disaster events. When we dial these futures forward in a synthetic model, we produce data about impacts and outcomes.”