If there is anything that has generated more noise than “Big Data,” it would be “The Internet of Things,” Cisco’s much-vaunted ideation of a world interconnected through the intelligence buried into the technology components that make up our lives. From cars to coffeemakers, one day everything will be connected to the internet in order to participate in a weird version of the Vulcan mind-meld; cars will tell air conditioners to turn on later than usual because the freeway has indicated a twenty minute delay due to congestion from a car accident. Your fridge will notice when you’re running low on eggs and will update the grocery list on your phablet. All kinds of insanely convenient things will happen once everything knows what everything else is doing.
Well, maybe, but probably not as soon as you’d think (or like). The technology manufacturers that are trying to market the Internet of Things to us gleefully create use cases that can make one wonder if humans will have any thinking to do whatsoever in the not-to-distant future, but their eye is on instrumentation and communications, not intelligence. Their devices are connected to the internet, and that’s about it. When it comes to predicting outcomes, it’s still up in the air. There is a fundamental disconnect between being able to do something and understanding that something needs to be done. For instance, some engineer out there will realize that it takes 45 minutes to heat water up in a home’s water heater, and will write a subroutine tied to a car that informs the water heater to turn on at just the right time such that Joe Technophile will have hot water right when he pulls in from work, rather than hot water all day when no one is at home. Another engineer will come up with another subroutine that geolocates members of a household in the event that smoke and heat sensors spike inside a home. And if we’re lucky, someone over at HP will figure out how to map a @#$%! printer to any device that comes within range without having to break your fingers in frustration. Maybe.
The problem here is with the word “subroutine.” Ok, go ahead and replace that with the word “app.” Or replace it with “functionality” or “integration” or whatever else strikes your fancy. At the end of the day, what it comes down to is this; the devices that we have instrumented and liberated through internet access are still nothing more than savants – incredibly efficient at what they are told to do, but not much else. For every awesome incident you can imagine your new high-tech toys doing, there must be a lateral use-case that enables that event to occur. Your house won’t know to turn on the coffee maker or turn up the air conditioner when you are minutes away from your home; it has to be told. Your hi-definition integrated AV system won’t know to dim the lights and throw on some Sinatra when you bring over a date on a Friday night because it doesn’t know what a date or Friday night is. It has to be told. It has to be programmed. It is all very prescriptive.
Did you know that your smartphone can measure the speed of a moving object? Or turn on your car? Did you know it is probably capable of telling you what planes are flying overhead, act as a leveler when you want to hang a picture, find the cheapest price of something you are merely looking at, and even control phone functions with a tilt of your head? Alas that there are ten million innovations buried beneath the inability of a human to aggregate and rationalize useful functionality. Maybe it’s laziness, or maybe it’s hubris; certainly, however, there is an element of capability overload.
All of this brings me back to the Internet of Things. It’s not, really. Without some sort of interpretive logic built across devices and across platforms, we are looking at a bunch of thingys that could talk to each other but probably won’t because we aren’t able to visualize the possibilities. Perhaps this is a play for Big Data – leveraging disparate sources of information and analyzing consumer trends in order to predict appropriate behavior. However, even some sort of enterprise bus that provides intelligence between disparate devices would be a decent starting point – it’s not enough to just communicate; these devices need to be able to report and have their data analyzed within the context of their users. In any case, without the ability to predict what is needed and a common language such that disparate devices can share information with each other (and construct knowledge from that information), the internet of thingys is something that will continue to confound us. It will never mature to the Internet of Things.
Jamal is a regular commentator on the Big Data industry. He is an executive and entrepreneur with over 15 years of experience driving strategy for Fortune 500 companies. In addition to technology strategy, his concentrations include digital oil fields, the geo-mechanics of multilateral drilling, well-site operations and completions, integrated workflows, reservoir stimulation, and extraction techniques. He has held leadership positions in Technology, Sales and Marketing, R&D, and M&A in some of the largest corporations in the world. He is currently a senior manager at Wipro where he focuses on emerging technologies.
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