Twenty-five minute read.
If humanity stopped fighting and competing against one another; if we bound together in a common cause, we could accomplish spectacular things.
We would basically become mindless drones of no culture because it’d all just be one culture with no distinct forms.
If this were to become a reality, Ummm how would govern it.
China’s premier Wen Jiabao put forward the following equation in a speech: “Internet + Internet of Things = Wisdom of the Earth.”
How wrong he was, however, by 2025 there will be 1 trillion networked devices worldwide in the consumer and industrial sectors combined.
He should have said, “Internet + Internet of Things = Becoming what we do not think? Because people are truly not that intelligent.
In our houses cars and factories, we’re surrounded by tiny, intelligent devices that capture data about how we live and what we do. Now they are beginning to talk to one another. Soon we’ll be able to choreograph them to respond to our needs, solve our problems, even save our lives.
Intelligent things all around us, coordinating their activities.
Coffee pots that talk to alarm clocks. Thermostats that talk to motion sensors. Factory machines that talk to the power grid and to boxes of raw material.
We might be seeing the dawn of an era when the most mundane items in our lives can talk wirelessly among themselves, performing tasks on command, giving us data we’ve never had before? This intelligence once locked in our devices will flow into the universe of physical objects.
We are already struggling to name this emerging phenomenon.
Some have called it the Internet of Things or the Internet of Everything or the Industrial Internet—despite the fact that most of these devices aren’t actually on the Internet directly but instead communicate through simple wireless protocols.
Others are calling it the Sensor Revolution.
I call it the Programmable Profitable in a World of profit-seeking algorithms.
It’s the fact that once we get enough of these objects onto our networks, they’re no longer one-off novelties or data sources but instead become a coherent system, a vast ensemble that can be choreographed, a body that can dance in the era of the cloud and apps and the walled garden— of Google, Apple, etc, which connotes a peer-to-peer system in which each node will not be equally empowered.
These connected objects will act more like a swarm of drones, a distributed legion of bots, far-flung and sometimes even hidden from view but nevertheless coordinated as if they were a single giant machine, relying on one another, coordinating their actions to carry out simple tasks without any human intervention.
So the world will act as one. Or will it?
Once we get there, that system will transform the world of everyday objects into a designable environment, a playground for coders and engineers.
It will change the whole way we think about the division between the virtual and the physical putting intelligence from the cloud into everything we touch.
Call it “smart exploration.”
The rises of the smartphone have supplied us with a natural way to communicate with those smart objects. So far they include watches, heart rate monitors, and even some new Nike shoes. Smartphone making payments to merchants wirelessly instead of swiping a card, and some billboards are using the protocol to beam content to passersby who ask for it. As a way to sell more products and services—particularly Big Data–style analysis—to their large corporate customers.
The yoking together of two or more smart objects—is the trickiest, because it represents the vertiginous shift from analysis, the mere harvesting of helpful data, to real automation.
In my view no matter how thoroughly we might use data to fine-tune our lives and businesses, it’s scary to take any decisions out of human hands.
It can be hard to imagine the automation you might someday want or even need, in your daily life. There are all sorts of adjustments you make over the course of any given day that is reducible to simple if-then relationships.
Facebook, which has famously described the underlying data it owns as a social graph—the knowledge of who is connected to whom and how.
Would you want to automate all of these relationships?
A world where every one of us would have a sensor on us. “Presence” tags—low-energy radio IDs that sit on our keychains or belt loops and announce our location, verify our identity.
This is the principle behind Square Wallet and a number of other nascent payment systems, including ones from PayPal and Google. (When you walk into a participating store today, Square can let the cashier know you’re there; you pay simply by giving your name.)
A tracking tool that monitors not just your pet’s movements, but your movements.
GPS reliably know our location within 100 feet, give or take, and that knowledge has and is transforming our lives immeasurably: turn-by-turn driving directions, local restaurant recommendations, location-based dating apps, and so on.
With presence technology, Google has already the potential to know our location absolutely, down to a foot or even a few inches. That means knowing not merely which bar your friend is at but which couch she’s sitting on if you walk through the door.
It means receiving a coupon for a grocery item on the endcap at the moment you walk by.
Think about a liquor cabinet that auto-populated your shopping list based on the levels in the bottles—but also locked automatically if your stock portfolio dropped more than 3 per cent.
Think about a home medical monitoring system that didn’t just feedback data from diabetic patients but adjusted the treatment regimen as the data demanded.
Think about how much more intelligent your sprinklers could be if they responded to the weather report as well as to historical patterns of soil moisture and rainfall.
It does not stop just there think about applications on top of these connected objects.
This means not just tying together the behaviour of two or more objects—like the sprinkler and the moisture sensor—but creating complex interrelationships that also tie in outside data sources and analytics.
Plugged into that information, your system wouldn’t just know how much water is in the soil it could predict how much there will be, based on whether it’s going to rain or the sun will be baking hot that day.
It means walking through an art museum and having your phone interpret the paintings as you pause in front of them.
This simple link—between a tag on us and a tag in the world—stands to become the culmination of the location revolution, delivering on all the promises it hasn’t quite fulfilled yet. A simple link—between a tag on us and a tag in the world—will complete the location revolution.
The treasure that it digs up could be considerable.
This is obviously true for retailers:
It’s a future where the intelligence once locked in our devices will now flow into the universe of physical objects. Users and developers can share their simple if-then apps and, in the case of more complex relationships, make money off of apps, just like in the mobile marketplaces.
Processing it all in the cloud in a language unheard of.
On Google Maps, you can now navigate inside certain airports and stores, with Wi-Fi triangulation helping out your GPS.
And according to a mobile couponing firm called Koupon Media, some 80 per cent of customers who buy gas at one major convenience-store chain never walk inside the store, so presence-based coupons could make a huge impact on the bottom line.
But it’s also true for our everyday lives. Have you ever lost an object in your house and dreamed that you could just type a search for it, as you would for a wayward document on your hard drive? With location stickers, that seemingly impossible desire has become a reality:
A startup called StickNFind Technologies already sells these quarter-sized devices for $25 apiece.
Think about a thermostat app pulling in readings from any other device on that platform—motion sensors that might say which room you’re in, presence tags that identify individual family members (with different temperature preferences)—as well as outside data sources like weather or variable power price.
An even more natural category for apps is security. It locks itself up, shuts down the lights and thermostat, and activates an alarm system complete with siren, flashing lights, and auto-notifications, and notifications with an on-call platoon of off-duty cops all coordinated through the SmartThings.
This, finally, is the Programmable World, the point at which the full power of developers, entrepreneurs, and venture capitalists are brought to bear on the realm of physical objects—improving it, customizing it, and groping toward new business plans for it that we haven’t dreamed of yet. Indeed, it will marshal all the forces that made the Internet so transformational and put them to work on virtually everything around us.
However, there are obviously some pitfalls lurking in this future of connected objects.
As a sanity check.
Our fears about malicious hackers preying on our email and bank accounts via the cloud might pale in comparison to how we’ll feel about those same miscreants pwning our garage doors and bathroom light fixtures.
The mysterious Stuxnet and Flame exploits have raised the issue of industrial security in the era of connected devices.
Vanity Fair recently detailed nightmare scenarios in which hackers could hit connected objects, from our high tech cars (university researchers have figured out how to exploit an OnStar-type system to cause havoc in a vehicle) to our utility “smart meters” (which collect patterns of energy use that can reveal a great deal about our activities at home) to even our pacemakers.
The idea of animating the inanimate, of compelling the physical world to do our bidding, has been a staple of science fiction for half a century or more.
No, the main existential threat to the Programmable World is the considerably more mundane issue of power. Every sensor still needs a power source, which in most cases right now means a battery; low-energy protocols allow those batteries to last a long time, even a few years, but eventually, they’ll need to be replaced.
Just as with social networking, the privacy concerns of a sensor-connected world will be fast outweighed by the strange pleasures of residing in a hyperconnected world.
A bigger concern, perhaps, is simple privacy. Just because we’ve finally warmed up to oversharing in the virtual world doesn’t mean we’ll be comfortable doing the same in the physical world, as all our interactions with objects capture more and more data about where we are and what we’re doing.
What’s coming is ubiquitous connectivity that will accelerate how people collaborate, share, learn, gather, do business, and exchange knowledge.