Zettabyte Futures

There is no shortage of bullish hype and speculation when it comes to the emerging future of the Internet of Things (IoT).

Technology giant Cisco has said that it expects 50 billion objects to connect by 2020. Samsung announced at CES that within 5 years, all of its appliances will access the internet.

CES 2015 showcased over 900 exhibitors with innovations that harnessed the power of the network and Karen Chupka, senior vice president of International CES and corporate business strategy, called the Internet of Things “the hottest topic in tech right now.”

A world where intelligence flows seamlessly between connected objects sounds very plausible. After all, only 20 years ago there was barely any internet at all. Today estimates place the data-cloud that comprises it as moving rapidly towards 966 Exobytes, which is almost a Zettabyte.

To give you an idea of how much data that is, UC Berkeley estimated that “all words spoken by human beings” could be contained in 5 exobytes of data. Cisco estimates that by 2016, annual global IP traffic will pass the zettabyte threshold.

With 90% of the world’s land surface now having access to a mobile phone signal, we are entering a new age. One where we connect our physical world, directly to the digital.

The Zettabyte future has begun.

Everything on the Internet

In this connected world every object, person and animal will have its own unique digital identity.

Everything from our homes and workplaces, to the goods we ship, the clothes we wear, the appliances we use, the buildings we occupy, the cars we drive and the roads we drive upon will be connected. The relationship between us and the objects around us will alter.

Connected objects will tell stories to us about themselves and they will tell those stories to each other.

The sensors inside them will communicate with other sensors inside other connected objects. They will speak the language of the future, a swarm of connected components exchanging high-speed binary data in a highly networked world.

According to IBM’s Scott Burnett, speaking at CES this year, there are 3 parts to this connectivity:

  • Devices equipped with the ability to connect.
  • Data in the cloud that serves and powers that connectivity.
  • Services that emerge from interactions between devices and data.

Commercially this a vast new area of  opportunity. But it is also the birth of a new type of society. One where everything is perpetually connected and where reality itself begins to become quantifiable.

The Measuring of Everything

Hospitals will monitor patients, patients will monitor hospitals. Parents will monitor children and companies will monitor consumers. Everyone and everything will monitor everyone and everything. We will share Petabytes of data about our health, location, activity, mood and mode. We will gather data so rich that an army of machines could not have collated it just a few decades ago.

Predictive analytics will drive conclusions and we will use then to improve our outcomes.

Reality will become indexable and searchable. It will become trivial to know where anything is. We will not lose things anymore because the cloud will always know exactly where we left them.

We will  reach out remotely and touch digitally. We will operate and interact over distance with a level of intimacy we can only guess at today. Our appliances will be remote controllable and our realities will be highly programmable.

We will routinely superimpose the virtual upon the physical and the physical upon the virtual.

These are powerful changes, both liberating and confining. They will offer great freedoms and severe limitations.

The Internet of things will liberate us because it will free us from the randomness of ignorance and the tyranny of the unknown. It will connect us to the information we need, when we need it. We will make better, smarter choices and this will allow  greater choice and freedom to flourish.

The Internet of Things will confine us because we will not be able to escape it. There will be nowhere and no-one that is not connected to it. Nothing will be untouched by the hands of our technology. The threat of technocracy and dictatorship and of submission to the will of those who tend the machines will grow.

When so much is knowable, the threat of mis-use increases. Human beings are not machines, and we are not always rational. We do not always act in our own best interests, or the best interest of others.

The existence of a global smart-web does not guarantee our safe or responsible use of it. Security threats to a connected world will be orders of magnitude more dangerous than before.

Malfunctions and fluctuations will pose greater risks. For all its illusion of safety it is probable that a world dominated by the Internet of Things, will be more and not less dangerous than the one we live in today.

The Internet of things will enable us to understand our world and ourselves with far greater precision. It will grant many boons in return for our acceptance of it. It will pose many challenges. How we respond to the complexities and opportunities it raises and how we deal with the threats that arise, will determine much of what we become in the months and years ahead.

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