Back in the day, when the Internet was a novelty and a 28K modem was the height of technical sophistication, movies tended to visualize the net as a 3-dimensional CGI landscape of shimmering buildings and lambent roads — the literal representation of the clichéd information superhighway. All a stark contrast to the dour network maps and line-by-line image-loading of reality. Back then such a representation was a technofantasy for the technologically ill-informed, but if, in a few years, we were to create a visualization of the global network, it might look much as it was imagined.
We are on the cusp of the Internet of Things, a world in which many of the objects around us will be referenced and addressed by online systems. The possible benefits are enormous, and the possible privacy concerns troubling. What goes almost without saying is that data centers are going to be the hubs of a world vastly more connected than we have today.
In a previous entry we looked at the way “Big Data” — a phrase which will no doubt become as clichéd and unwieldy as information superhighway — is affecting decision making. We noted that 29% of the time data analytics is being used to make decisions automatically, but that many were distrustful of the trend. Part of the problem is not an excessive amount of data, but a paucity of exact object-level geographical and temporal information. The original theorist of the Internet of Things, Kevin Ashton, noted that the weak link in most decision making processes was the human element.
As objects become more easily referenced by computers, including their exact locations, precise real-time decision making becomes possible across a plethora of different domains. Supply chain management is at the forefront of this wave. Being able to locate items within the supply chain from production to delivery, largely through the use of RFID tags, removes much of the uncertainty about stock levels and order quanties, allowing wastage to be significantly reduced.
Google have recently iterated their mobile search product. Google Now provides personalized search based on location-aware services. At the moment this is a fairly primitive system, but the benefits that will come from having a search and information management tool that can make use of APIs that are aware of the location and status of many of the objects that we interact with daily are immense. From being able to order a cab and knowing exactly how long it will take to reach you, to knowing whether stores have what you want before you leave home, or even where your clothes are when you get up in the morning, an Internet of Things has the potential to reduce much of the human burden of dealing with the information required to manage the objects we interact with in our daily lives.
However, the fly in the ointment here is privacy. Many people are reflexively wary of even the current amount of personal data that companies like Google, Facebook, and Amazon collect, and an Internet of Things, coupled with mobile computing, will lead to orders of magnitude more data being gathered and analysed. As things move forward, we will all need to ask ourselves, is the benefit of a radically connected world worth the loss in personal privacy, and do we trust the companies that we will be handing our most intimate details?
What do you think? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter.