December 20, 2013


THE WORLD IS YOUR BROWSER : How the "internet of things" will replace the web (Christopher Mims, December 15, 2013, Quartz)

The next layer of the internet of things will require combining disparate streams of data "mined" from reality--everything from your location to the members of your social network. This is called sensor fusion, a task that is basic to all big data projects. Knowing where you are throughout the day won't mean much, but add in data about who else is present and a computer algorithm can tell you how likely you are to get the flu. Finding the connections--in other words, meaning--in all this data is key to making it useful. "We have frictionless data gathering but we don't have frictionless correlation," Esri's Case said at last year's Le Web conference. "If you have to be a data scientist to do it, then it's totally wrong."

Mike Bell, head of the new devices group at Intel, says that the future of smart devices, "whether it's a wearable [computer] or a next-generation tablet replacement, will have a real user interface, but it's not necessarily visual." Bell, whose primary interest is wearable computing, can't talk about what Intel is currently working on, but I'd guess from our conversations that it's more likely to look like a wristband fitness monitor than another cell phone.

In other words, the internet of things will replace the internet, but not by giving us another way to explicitly tell computers what we want. Instead, by sensing our actions, the internet-connected devices around us will react automatically, and their representations in the cloud will be updated accordingly. In some ways, interacting with computers in the future could be more about telling them what not to do--at least until they're smart enough to realize that we are modifying our daily routine.

If this all sounds like mind reading, that's because in a way it is. Munjal Shah, entrepreneur in residence at Charles River Ventures, surveyed a thousand people about what super powers they would acquire if they could. The most popular answer was "speak all languages," but the number two answer might surprise you: the ability to comfort anyone. Shah had conducted the survey in order to determine what sort of businesses could be built to give people these abilities (the first one, universal translation, is at least plausible). Comforting a friend is, he concluded, exactly the sort of thing the internet of things would be good at. First, our connected devices will be able to monitor our state--inactivity could indicate sickness or depression. And maybe we've recently posted on social media about a tragedy that befell us. Text alerts are sent out to friends, asking them to reach out, and voila--in as much as mediated communication is any sort of comfort, no one need ever feel lonely again.

Once our possessions can both sense and respond, and are directed for the most part by computers, the world becomes something like a living creature. "We believe the digital world and the physical world are merging, and that done correctly what this will do is create a virtual representation of all of our physical devices online," said Jeff Hagins, chief technology officer of Smartthings. "What that will accomplish is that it will make the physical world programmable. When we change the digital representation, the physical world will change in response." If your goal is to fuse your mind and body with the internet, this is good news. But if you were hoping that in the future, getting away from it all would be as simple as switching off your mobile phone, you're in for a rude surprise.

Posted by at December 20, 2013 6:17 PM

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