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What inefficiencies frustrate you in your day-to-day life? What could work better about your home and the things that surround you—your car, your commute, your job, your health care, your aging parent’s physical situation, or your local government? Entrepreneurs and innovators are beginning determinedly to address those problems.
How can I be so confident? Because of the macro trend that some, including we at Techonomy, call the “Internet of Everything” (IoE for shorthand). We see it as a big deal worth devoting a half day to, along with a superb group of speakers, at our Techonomy Lab: Man, Machines, and the Network on May 16. The event, at SRI in Menlo Park, California, is open to the public.
The Internet has done a good job connecting the world, but has really functioned thus far mostly just as a souped-up communications and information tool for individuals—a sort of phone/telegraph/library catalog on steroids. Of course it has transformed modern life. But there’s much more to come. We are extending the connectivity of the Net to a much wider world wide web that includes the manifold physical objects of the world, letting them speak back to software that makes sense of what those objects tell us. That is the promise of the Internet of Everything.
It’s obvious that the explosion of mobile and smartphones will continue to transform the tech and social landscape. But it’s not the whole story. You need to overlay the Internet of Everything on top of that trend.
“A lot of people think they know what’s coming, but they have no clue,” says Dave Evans, Cisco’s chief futurist. “The Internet of Everything is arguably the biggest tech transition we’ve seen to date, both in terms of the technology and the scale of the business opportunity.” Cisco calculates that $14.4 trillion in value will be created worldwide between now and 2022. As huge and oddly specific as that number may be, it is not an outlier. General Electric calculates that what it calls the “Industrial Internet” could add $10-15 trillion to global GDP over the next 20 years.
GE sees a raft of major industries on the cusp of radical transformation by this set of technologies—including aviation, railroads, energy production, oil and gas, and healthcare. The new capabilities, cost savings, and efficiencies will be legion. But Cisco’s Evans says that for all of that, the biggest changes will come in the lives of consumers. “Of the 1.5 trillion things that have a potential to be connected, 97% of them are consumer,” he explains.
And why should we want to connect all this stuff? Alex Hawkinson, CEO of a hot Washington-based startup called SmartThings, puts it in terms anyone can understand: “Less worry.”
“It’s the world waking up,” he explains. “It sort of humanizes the world, and you will be able to control your preferences through the cloud wherever you are.”
“What’s about to happen,” Hawkinson says, “is that everyday things—all the things that surround you, will get connected. Then, through software and the supercomputing power of the Web, you can bring intelligence to the objects. It has the promise of changing how everything works.” Some of the things he presumes will be connected: lights, thermostats, coffee pots, shades, garage doors, washing machines, music systems, and cars.
SmartThings aims to build a platform to make it easy to connect all these disparate objects and processes. Your thermostat or home appliances, for example, can talk to your car. If you get within a certain number of miles from home, your oven might start heating up, or your humidifier would switch on.
Engineers are creating the tiny computers to attach to the things of this world. Evans says Department of Defense researchers announced a sensor with three gyroscopes, an accelerometer, and GPS—the whole thing so small that dozens could fit on the face of a penny!
It’s not just that the devices become intelligent. The Internet of Everything also requires software that can make decisions based on what the devices tell it. We will be measuring and correlating and activating and deactivating all kinds of systems in response to other systems. An obvious outcome would be more efficient use of energy.
Applications are emerging from surprising places. I wrote an article for Forbes last year about apps co-developed by Ford and Facebook. A simple one now checks you in to a Facebook event the minute you turn off your car in the parking lot at the event’s location. More radical apps might involve self-inflicted behavior modification. Hawkinson says one recent hack connected systems in your home to a Fitbit—a device (I wear one at all times) that measures footsteps, calories burned, and sleep, among other things. So if you don’t meet your goal for steps in a day, for example, your house might be punitively colder that night. It’s an apocryphal example, but points to how unexpected some of the combinations of measurement, control, and decision-making will be.
Whether or not humans will be in sufficient control of this collision of intelligence with processing is unknown. We’re going to have to pay pretty close attention to all our options, and each of us is likely to have a lot of processing and decision-making to control. This is the kind of question we expect to discuss at the Techonomy Lab. Both Evans and Hawkinson will be there. So will industry legend Gordon Bell, who co-wrote a book entitled Total Recall about a coming world in which connectivity, cameras, and processing record your life. He spent much of the last decade wearing a camera that recorded his nearly every move and interaction. That kind of information will be part of the Internet of Everything.
In Menlo Park we’ll also hear from leaders from Ericsson, Ford, GE, Qualcomm, and other companies. Facebook mobile chief Cory Ondrejka will help us better understand how people will intersect with the IoE. One startup, Nanosatisfi, will explain how to extend the IoE into space. Another, MC10, is putting processing on our skin. Investors including Trae Vassallo from Kleiner Perkins and Frank Chen from Andreessen Horowitz will survey the opportunities for future company creation and investment.
Cisco CEO John Chambers wrote his own essay about how big a deal this is for companies and the economy. We’re grateful to have his company as our host sponsor, and Ford and Ericsson as supporting partners. Join us if you can be in Silicon Valley on Thursday May 16.