Science Fact: Internet of Things, Internet of Everything. It’s hard to miss those image ads from Cisco and the breathless hype from many sides: from technologists; from self-styled futurists; from investment advisors looking for the next big stock killing; from professional societies starting up new conferences and journals. I’m obliged to my friend Joe Behrens for nudging me to look beyond the headlines to the reality that may lie here.
It’s undeniable that we are increasingly interconnected to things as well as each other, and “Everything” sometimes seems like not too much of an exaggeration. Consider a few facts:
– We already have chips in buildings, vehicles, appliances and animals, and many of these are in continual communication with the Internet
– We are becoming increasingly bionic — our bodies used to use only passive prosthetics like hip joints and blood vessels, but now have electronically active, interconnected attachments; some are implanted like bionic skin, others are worn like Google Glass and smart watches, but even the implant-versus-wear distinction is disappearing
– The types of system architecture, the way things talk to one another, are proliferating without any apparent limit: cloud-based networks, ad-hoc nearest-neighbor messaging, network designs that may be thing-centric, data-centric or service-centric.
Almost any parameter you care to plot — numbers of devices, data bandwidth, network complexity — is continually increasing with no obvious ceiling.
Science Speculation: We have to wonder where it’s all going, this proliferation of sensors and Internet connections in every object around us, and in lots of living beings as well. And the remarkable durability of Moore’s Law through 40 years — and many generations of technology — might tempt us to simply draw a line and extrapolate. But if we try to predict the future, we are speculating, not strictly analyzing facts and data.
Linear extrapolation is not the only natural law: cycles, like the swing of a pendulum, are also extremely important.
Here’s an example that sure to annoy you, whatever your politics: The activities of man contribute to global warming — but how much? The world has cycled between warming and cooling many times in geologic time. Like many things in science, the answer is neither black or white. Cycles also occur in human society: for example, business cycles and swings in the stock market; and the periodic swing between intervention and isolationism in global politics.
It’s possible that the proliferation of interconnected “things” is one of those swinging pendula (yep, that’s a possible plural) that will swing back, to a much less interconnected world. And when the pendulum swings, it usually goes PAST the center point to another extreme.
Am I being a curmudgeon? A Luddite? Perhaps, but we need to pose the question. I can see social trends that could make us all demand significant controls on “connectedness”:
– The ubiquity of viruses and hacks that threaten our data, our money and our privacy: what would we pay, in money or in limitations on the Internet, to be free of these risks?
– The flood of spam and advertising that blunt our Internet experience
– The economics of pay-per-view Internet which might take over from subscriptions and advertising
– The lack of security and accountability that comes from when we can’t positively identify the person at the other end of our communications
Are you convinced that the Internet form of Moore’s Law will continue till all present readers have gone to their reward? Or could there be a swing back to the middle and even beyond?