Cape Town - Imagine a world in which all things under human jurisdiction will be capable of independent communication.
Well, imagine no longer. For all intents and purposes, it is already here and it is about to change life in previously unimaginable ways.
Its advocates and analysts call it the Internet of Everything (IoE) and it will change the way we live, interact and work and do business.
And one of its earliest victims will be the internet as we know it today, because when this new thing takes hold, we will no longer need computers, high speed connections, service providers or wi-fi hot spots.
At the heart of the technology that is already making this possible is a tiny thing called an embedded wireless module. When it is embedded in something, it will allow the electronic systems in that thing, like sensors and controllers, to transfer and receive data from other things similarly connected to a network freed from the confines of purpose-built equipment.
This means the internet is going to move away from the limitations of personal computers and internet service providers and find a new life inside, well, everything.
Everything, that is, capable of containing and using this embedded wireless module. It will all be eligible to take part in this new Internet of Everything. Everything will be connected, at all times. Including humans.
The reason for this new internet’s existence is to have machines talking to machines in order to perform complex tasks on behalf of us humans, to quote journalist Kevin Maney, who describes himself as an author, writer, collaborator and content adviser.
“If you get lost, your sneakers could help find you. The coming age of the Internet of Everything promises radical shifts in how we live, how we solve problems, and how we recover from difficulty,” he wrote recently in the online science and tech magazine Techonomy.
All this seems to make the Internet of Everything a capitalist dream. But what will it mean for those who will be paying the way? Maney describes a world in which humans have shared their intelligence by passing it into machines, to turn the world into one big machine.
“We are heading into an instrumented world, in which intelligence is widely distributed across the physical landscape, turning everything into, in effect, a machine,” he said.
“The machines can be anything – sensors on cars talking to data centres that talk to cellphones that talk to blood pressure monitors that talk to RFID (radio frequency identification data) chips on boxes of “Cap’n Crunch”. We’re talking billions and billions of chattering things. They will all have ways – with permissions and security – to interact.”
RFID technology had already been the subject of major concerns from privacy activists and advocacy groups, and privacy concerns were also certain to feature strongly in debate about the IoE.
“These sensors will generate enormous amounts of data we never had before from the physical world. They will almost without exception be connected together via an ever-expanding network. And then cognitive computers capable of learning and sorting information will make sense of the waves of data and give us knowledge and capabilities we never thought possible. We’ll tap that system by just asking a question, similar to when IBM’s Watson computer played Jeopardy! in 2011.
“So how might that impact the real world? One example is a disaster scenario, when normal communication doesn’t work and people lose track of loved ones, with no easy way of finding them.
“Today, Google offers a Person Finder service, but it shows just how far we are from a completely connected network of machines and things. Google has to ask first responders to manually upload data to Person Finder or embed some Google code on their websites. It’s been a human-driven process.
“In an IoE world, every ambulance and fire truck, every medical device, even clothing people wear, could talk to the network, sending information back to a database that can then interact with other databases.”
John T Chambers, chairman and executive officer of the hardware and technology company Cisco, says: “You begin to get a sense for the Internet of Everything’s potential to enable improved quality of life, richer experiences, new capabilities and increased economic value.
But he also comes up with some negatives: “Along with great opportunity, the emergence of the Internet of Everything will present technology, organisational, process, regulatory, cultural, and other challenges.
“We need to collectively solve them because the benefits of increased connectedness, to business and society alike, far outweigh these challenges,” he said.
“We also need to work to protect the privacy and security of individuals and organisations of all kinds, giving them the power to choose and control how their information is shared. We need to reinvent education and training to address the changing needs of our world.” - Cape Argus