My last post for the one who didn’t know I had moved my blog.
Dear followers or new readers,
I have decided to move this blog from wordpress.com to a self hosted version. It was a lot of fun and a delight to write on this platform but unfortunately, the constraints are too, well, too constraining.
If you follow me, and want to keep following me, go to this address. If you’re not following me, go to this address so you can follow me.
You’ll be able to subscribe to a newsletter, to my RSS feed, or just to bookmark my blog. No, no more easy following like on wordpress.com…
So I’ll see you all on my new blog. Keep connected.
I am talking a lot about the Internet of Things, some of its applications and challenges so it would be a shame not to talk about its origins, about its genesis.
A lot of people consider Mr Kevin Ashton to be the first one to talk about the Internet of Things while he was doing a presentation for its employer in 1999: Procter and Gamble. The topic of the presentation was the supply chain management and more particularly how to make it more efficient. Wikipedia and most websites will tell you the same story: Mr Ashton invented the term IoT. He was the first one to tackle the issue and to talk about virtual representation of physical objects in the internet environment, their interactions with us and the crucial importance of these interactions. His definition of the IoT you can find on the RFID journal webpage is the following:
“Today computers—and, therefore, the Internet—are almost wholly dependent on human beings for information. Nearly all of the roughly 50 petabytes (a petabyte is 1,024 terabytes) of data available on the Internet were first captured and created by human beings—by typing, pressing a record button, taking a digital picture or scanning a bar code. Conventional diagrams of the Internet … leave out the most numerous and important routers of all – people. The problem is, people have limited time, attention and accuracy—all of which means they are not very good at capturing data about things in the real world. And that’s a big deal. We’re physical, and so is our environment … You can’t eat bits, burn them to stay warm or put them in your gas tank. Ideas and information are important, but things matter much more. Yet today’s information technology is so dependent on data originated by people that our computers know more about ideas than things. If we had computers that knew everything there was to know about things—using data they gathered without any help from us—we would be able to track and count everything, and greatly reduce waste, loss and cost. We would know when things needed replacing, repairing or recalling, and whether they were fresh or past their best. The Internet of Things has the potential to change the world, just as the Internet did. Maybe even more so.”
As far as I’m concerned I believe it’s one of the best view and definition of the IoT even though I think it lacks some interaction between things gathering human data and not only data coming from the environment…
That is all fine, it is surely true that Ashton came up with the term but the IoT idea, not the term, can be tracked back to the beginning of the previous century. I ran into this article on Postscapes, tracking the internet of things , and I found it passionating. Do you know that Tesla, probably one of the most important visionary genius in the history of human kind said during an interview that “when wireless is perfectly applied the whole earth will be converted into a huge brain, which in fact it is, all things being particles of a real and rhythmic whole………and the instruments through which we shall be able to do this will be amazingly simple compared with our present telephone. A man will be able to carry one in his vest pocket.” When I read this it gave me shivers.
Later in 1964 Marshall McLuhan the genius of Media Analysis stated this:
”….by means of electric media, we set up a dynamic by which all previous technologies — including cities — will be translated into information systems“
A bit further down the road, in 1966, a German Computer Science pioneer said “In a few decades time, computers will be interwoven into almost every industrial product“. This can’t be denied today, a lot of industrial product are connected and more and more will be so in the future (see The Chinese Internet of Things article).
John Romke, who worked on the first implementation of TCP/IP for personal computer built a connected toaster in 1990 for the INTEROP conference. More than 20 years before the Nest thermostat a guy was able to turn on and off a toaster through a barely working internet. The Internet of Things got out of people’s brain to become a reality.
In 1999, Mr Ashton, as we said earlier, came up with the term Internet of Things.
We all know the following events, internet grew at an exponential rate, more and more scientists, entrepreneurs and people in general jumped into the revolution. The IoT has been quite left out even though many people were, and still are, working on it. More resources were directed toward eCommerce and later on, Social Networks.
As you can see the genesis of the Internet of Things is not as simple as a phrase said during a presentation by a single man. It involves way more events and persons than that and I am sure we will discover even more interesting facts in the future.
This morning I woke up, got in front of my computer with a cup of coffee, went on my pulse.me website and read an amazing article about a brand new product designed by Phillips: hue. It is as Philips says, “a personal wireless lighting”. For me its pure magic.
It is basically a connected light bulb you can control from your iPhone or iPad. Basic feature you would think but hey! A connected light bulb? Who would have thought about that a few years ago. And you can do way more than just turning on and off your lights, this is where the added value of this product kicks in.
Are you one of this person who is really influenced by the weather? I am truly one of those, I hate greyish sky and rainy days. In such a scenario your only saviour is your house and its ambient light. Thanks to hue you can use a picture from your last vacation in the Caribbean stored on your iPhone and set the ambient light from it. How cool is that? You can also set the lights to gradually brighten up in the morning so you can prepare your coffee and start to get ready in a great atmosphere.
I’m sure you know the eye drop tool in photoshop? Well if you don’t it basically lets you pick any colour of an image so you can use it for whatever you want. You can do the same with hue. Launch the app, open a picture you love, let say this perfect summer evening when you where with your wife under a magnificent pink and blue sky in the south of France, point your finger to the sky and your lights will adjust themselves to recreate this ambiance. “You can paint with light” and that is pretty magical.
You are out of your house for many days, but you don’t know if you’ve turned off the lights? Classic situation right? If you use hue you won’t experience this problem anymore. You can remotely turn your lights on or off. And if you are paranoid like my dad, you can turn them on when you’re away in order for people (thieves?) to think you’re home. Or just before arriving home so you enter in a lighted house and not in complete darkness.
Another great feature I love is called lightrecipe. This features is based on studies made by Philips to see how the ambient light influences your productivity, health, and behaviour. You can choose among four different settings: relax, concentrate, energise, and reading. Whatever you’re doing you’ll be surrounded by a perfect lighting.
The only task you’ve got to perform to set the system is to plug a wireless bridge into your router and screw the bulbs in your lamps. After that you can set your iPhone or iPad app and start to use the system. You can name the light bulbs and adjust them individually of course. Oh and last but not least, hue can take care of your family. How? By using reverse signalling. For example if you buy hue for an elder person and the light hasn’t been switched on by a certain amount of time, you can ask the app to send a notification to your phone.
The bulbs are not cheap, the starter kit costs $199 (3 bulbs) and the extra one will cost you another $59 but they last for 15 years and consume 1/5 of the energy your regular light bulb would consume.
This is a really promising, exciting, and inspiring product. Indeed it makes your daily life better in an almost unnoticeable and magical way. And on top of that it makes you save energy and as a consequence, money. This product is available only in Apple stores so far.
After Withings and Nest products, your local Apple store in now selling hue and widen the range of connected objects available. Apple is really making an effort in trying to help the development of the Internet of Things market and that’s great news for this movement to have a partner like Apple.
China might not be where we’re expecting it to be. Indeed an interesting fact can be found in this document. It describes an interesting move made recently by the Chinese government. The title describes perfectly the content: “The Development Program of Internet of Things in the Twelfth Five Year Plan Period”.
When I discovered that I was completely amazed. How a government like the Chinese one include in its policy the development of the Internet of Things? China is more famous for its focus on manufacturing and copycatting than on R&D. Is it a bold and visionary move, a political one, a misunderstanding, or a mix of all the previous?
Before trying to answer to this question let’s take a deeper look on the ”The Development Program of Internet of Things in the Twelfth Five Year Plan Period”.
The document starts by acknowledging the importance of the Internet of Things (IoT) in the global economy and particularly in China as well as its strategic role for the development of China. It will give the country a competitive advantage over other economies and place it at a higher rank than it is today. “The Decisions of The State Council of People’s Republic of China on accelerating and fostering the development of strategically important new industries”, has taken effect in 2011 and will last until 2015, when the IoT industry will be mature enough to grow by itself.
The Chinese government recognises the early stage of this technology but also its potential huge growth in a near future thanks to industrial and technical applications. It “shows glorious visions of the future” to use their words.
And this is where everything start to make sense. RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) is a huge industry in China, it is worth 10 billion of Yuan or 1.6 billion U.S. Dollars and they posit that more than 1,600 companies are dedicated to the Research, the development, the production, and the application of sensors. This is a number way higher than most countries in this world (including Germany, France, the UK, and the Europe in general). The total output of sensors is around 2.5 billion units and after bragging about how there communication system is the biggest (censored?), and most technologically advanced in the world, the document tells us that the IoT market in China is closed to 200 billion Yuan or 32 billion U.S. dollars.
They provide us with many applications of the IoT currently in place in China, from medicine to transportation through energy and environmental protection. The range of usage is pretty wide and it’s planned to get wider in the following years. As an example, the Chinese government is supporting the application of the IoT in various sectors such as the protection of the environment by using sensors in factories, or devices to track energy wastes, but also in logistics to enhance efficiency, and in medicine by using more and more IoT in hospitals to monitor patients vital signs in the long run. Another interesting thing is the usage of IoT for food and drug traceability. A question remains: do they really use them? This would need further investigation and way more time than I have for me to answer.
So far it seems that the applications of IoT are mainly low level, we do not see Chinese versions of Nest, or Withings and Ninja Blocks or any other customers-oriented devices. It is clearly a challenge for the government and it wants to find a remedy to this bottleneck by putting its hands in the corporate bowl to foster innovation in this field, and to scale IoT to the mass market.
I am a fierce defendant of the free market and free allocation of resources toward the most efficient investments so I don’t think the focus on the IoT by the Chinese government will revolutionise this growing field but what I do believe is its power to give a great deal of publicity to the Internet of Things movement. It will surely draw attention from all over the world because when a giant like China steps into something, it certainly shakes a big part of it. So to answer the initial question this move is probably a way for the government to jump in a business they think will be pretty huge in the following years. Will they foster innovation? Probably but it won’t be a quantum leap. Revolutionary products are gonna come from private companies and genius entrepreneurs. China is still a manufacturing giant supported by its government and will remain so for many years.
Since a few years we’ve seen more and more people defining the current World Wide Web as being the Web 2.0. Some others posits the emergence of a Web 3.0 and many persons even start to talk about a web 4.0! What does all this mean? I personally do not understand. It’s mainly confusing and smells marketing from afar.
So Web 2.0 was the social network era, the 3.0 is supposed to be the Internet of Things and the 4.0, I don’t even know and it doesn’t make any sense to talk about it. I am persuaded that we should drop all this versioning of the Web. The internet is surely evolving but it evolves just like a living organism. There is no reason to try to define it by using a single feature or characteristic such as being social in the case of the Web 2.0. The Web is only and solely the Web just like a human being is a human being even if we are taller, more educated, and more tech-savvy than a century ago for example.
So what is the internet nowadays and what is it going to be in the near future?
Internet has evolved from a network of connected machines to a network of connected humans. We are now almost forgetting that we are using the internet. It is truly fantastic how such a technology entered our life and almost blended with it. When somebody sends you a message on Facebook and your smartphone pushes you a notification you don’t think about the internet, which is the technology enabling this event to happen. The only thing you can think about in such a situation is the friend who tries to communicate with you through this social network. To me it is really magical how we managed to domesticate this technology and to use it almost effortlessly and intuitively. It is not a web 2.0 but a web we’re using to accomplish many tasks without even thinking about it. It is true that it has transformed into a network of connected individuals but that isn’t what’s defining it at all. We can’t name the internet and we surely can’t name what it is going to be in the future. We can have a vision of what it will help us to achieve and that’s it.
To my mind, I believe of the return of the machines but not in the way they were present during the early days of the internet. They are going to interact with us in an intelligent way and provide us with useful information without having to do anything on our side. Internet is going to evolve into a network of people whose environments are also connected to the Web through devices linked to the network. This will multiply the possibilities and capacities of our connected world in a way that we haven’t seen before. Hardware is going to be once again at the forefront of innovation.
This is just a quick thought, which was going through my mind today. If you have any definition of the internet and some thoughts about its direction don’t hesitate to write it as a comment.
One of the challenges of the next internet revolution is to turn data into wisdom. That means transforming data into information, information into knowledge, and knowledge into wisdom.
The internet of things revolution is going to help us to achieve this goal. The question is how?
First of all it’s going to be possible by collecting a huge amount of data and this is a trend, which already exists and seems to grow exponentially. More and more sensors are harvesting data everywhere, governments are collecting data, and more and more entrepreneurs are starting to get interested in connected objects and hardware in general. Even Microsoft is launching its first hardware device in more than 30 years! The internet is predicted to double in size every 5 years. That means more data exchanged, collected, and processed. The question that you might want to ask is what is data? Data is basically a raw statement about an observation. There is an amount X of Y things in this population or I did X amount of Y within a year.
Second of all we need intelligent objects and sensors collecting useful data. It is a first step to help data skimming and to avoid an information overload. For this reason we, as humans, need to be careful because we are programming these systems. We have to meticulously choose, which data are more relevant than others and we’ve got to be as scientific as possible to avoid biases. This is where data is transformed into information. Information puts data into context, the information makes data understandable. There is an amount X of Y in this population because Z reasons.
Thirdly, these connected objects are helping us to make decision by making us conscious of our behaviour and our environment. They are like an extension of our brain. Herbert Simon, the famous economist, came up with the concept of bounded rationality. This theory says that “in decision-making, rationality of individuals is limited by the information they have, the cognitive limitations of their minds, and the finite amount of time they have to make a decision”. What if machines could help us to overcome these limitations. We could be able to make better, faster, smarter decisions almost as if the information was total and perfect. Data are turned into knowledge. For me knowledge is your usage of information. What you can or will do with it. Because I know that there are an X amount of Y in this population I can do Z.
Finally we need to use this knowledge to improve our life, to improve life on earth, to enhance happiness, to fight misbehaviours, and to leave in peace. Long story short, to be better human beings. This is probably the hardest part of the process. Transforming knowledge into wisdom. “Wisdom is a deep understanding and realization of people, things, events or situations, resulting in the ability to apply perceptions, judgements and actions in keeping with this understanding”. How to manage, transform, and diffuse knowledge collected by devices for it to become wisdom?. This is an open question, almost a philosophical one with many ramifications needing further exploration.