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IoT – Emerging and Receding Invisibly into the Fabric of Life

Identity, Internet of Things
Author: Mark Dixon
Monday, April 1, 2013
9:08 pm


Last week, T.Rob Wyatt authored an intriguing post, “Futurist’s Groundhog Day.” I found it by following Phil Windley‘s tweeted recommendation:

Futurist’s Groundhog Day: http://t.co/pq75vMPZsS #vrm

It wasn’t long before Doc Searls tweeted,

The best #VRM post, ever: http://t.co/IiQrMR12Ox, by @tdotrob, honored here: http://t.co/xERNWkA6Sp

I agree that the post addressed the VRM concept very well, but I particularly liked T.Rob’s description about how technology, once broadly accepted, “disappeared into the fabric of life.”

First, a historical observation:

The first electric motors were envisioned to replace steam motors within the same architecture: one big motor, lots of belts and pulleys. But what actually happened was that electric motors disappeared into the fabric of life. There’s one on my wrist as I write this. There are roughly 30 within arm’s reach of my chair. Electric motors are invisible. We don’t think of them as motors, we think of them as a watch, hard drive, CD/DVD player, printer, sprinkler valve, drill, toy, fan, vacuum cleaner, etc.

Next, a prediction:

In the near future a “smart switch” will just be a switch. A “smart” anything will just become that thing and the old version will become a “dumb thing.” The instrumentation will no longer be a novelty but will recede invisibly into the fabric of life. When steam engines were replaced by electric motors, it was hard to imagine a time when motors would fit on your wrist. It’s just as difficult today to imagine why we’d want sensors and actuators in all our devices and objects but let’s table that and stipulate that it happens.

And further observation about when sensors become ubiquitous:

In the very near future your casual behavior and activities will be trackable with the precision and detail only possible today in the confines of a lab. Every device, object or surface will potentially be a sensor. The physical constraints assumed by the current legal framework and that balanced the power of individuals against corporate and government interest are disappearing. The digital representation of you that was once a rough tile mosaic is coming into focus for vendors and government as a hi-def, crystal image.

In my lifetime, it has been great to see so much technology emerge as novelty and then become commonplace. Think pocket calculators, microwave ovens and mobile phones.  Now, the Internet of Things, including ubiquitous sensors, is emerging.  We can expect IoT to grow, become commonplace and then “recede invisibly into the fabric of life.”

Hence, T.Rob’s challenge:

IoT is coming so embrace it.  It is inevitable and it is closer than you think.  If you start with 50 billion instrumented things (or trillions if you are ambitious) and work backward, what do we need to build to pave the road between here and there?

Exciting stuff.  Just think – every one of those billions of devices will have an identity (or identifier, depending on your point of view).  Sign me up for the journey.

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