The Big Unanswered Questions About The Future of IoT

After displaying signs of relative indifference for many years, people and companies across the globe are finally waking up to the fact that we are entering a radically new era of connectivity and computing. The world is rapidly evolving beyond information systems dependent on “eyeballs” and “keyboards”.

In this new cycle, physical assets and devices are being connected and enabled with sensors on a daily basis. Technology developers, suppliers and adopters around the world are now devoting major resources to addressing the opportunities associated with Smart Systems.

The next cycle of technology and systems development in the smart connected systems arena is supposed to be setting the stage for a multi-year wave of growth based on the convergence of innovations in embedded computing: distributed software architectures; smarter sensors; virtual infrastructure; cheap (if not altogether free) wireless communications; and smaller, more powerful UX devices connected to personal, local and wide-area networks.

But are things really progressing that smoothly? Aren’t there more questions surrounding the Internet of Things than we have answers for yet?

The fact is that we’re talking about systems of unimagined and unprecedented complexity. A world full of intelligent, networked things and “Smart Connected Systems” will require a remarkably agile global network that could comfortably scale to trillions of nodes—some of them hardware, some software, some purely data, many of them coming into and out of existence or changing location constantly.

Obviously, such a network system cannot be “designed” in any ordinary sense. Certainly, it cannot be designed “top-down.” And yet the Internet of Things must be designed in some sense. Some basic design principles must be put in place to guide the growth of a vast, distributed technological organism that must remain organized as it evolves according to a logic all its own.

The Internet of Interactions — between and among “Things” and “People” — requires much more than incremental improvements in today’s technologies to be fully realized. Today’s multiplicity of so-called “standards”, traditional relational databasing, and client-server computing models have us trapped in decades-old assumptions. We need a true shift in thinking about how devices, people and physical systems will be integrated into a single, unified architecture for the nearly infinite interactions to which any person or thing can contribute.

What’s required is a true shift in thinking about how devices, people and physical systems will be integrated and how they will interact. We need an approach that is not about leveraging aging IT technology into a new application context; its about looking forward to a single, unified architecture for the nearly infinite interactions to which any PERSON or any THING can contribute.

What will this require?

  • Its about the ability to create more universal standards for connectivity and integration; one simple standard, based upon the Internet Protocol itself for networking any information device (even non-electronic ones), rather than the multiplicity of so-called standards we have today.
  • A vision that looks toward the creation of more universal means to integrate and manage disparate data, to which anyone can contribute, and which liberates information by abandoning traditional relational databasing and the client-server computing models that have us so deceptively ”trapped” today.

These broader requirements are driving several important development trends, including:

  • The rapidly rising requirements for smart products to be interoperable with a growing array of applications, systems and people.
  • Developers and end users are beginning to recognize the requirement for a unified family of software and tools to develop smart connected devices; today’s diverse software offerings and fragmented supplier community will not meet their needs.
  • The need for new development tools and protocols to address the growing complexity of new devices and systems.
  • The ability to aggregate, fuse and manage structured, unstructured and time series data.
  • The maturation of radically new information models and architectures that can more readily integrate classical IT capabilities with real-time, state-based devices and systems.

Taking these questions seriously does not mean junking all current IT practice in one fell swoop. The pillars of present-day information technology will not crumble overnight, nor has the great existing investment in them suddenly lost all value. There are reasonable, fiscally sane paths for migrating to the future. But migrate we must. The nature and behavior of a truly distributed global information system are concerns that have yet to really take center stage—not only in business communities, but in most technology communities, too.


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