Dusk in the Information Age and What’s on the Horizon After IoT? / by James Kelly

Just a fortnight into 2016 and it’s safe to say that the perennial prophecy blogs and media have firmly asserted the Internet of Things (IoT) as this year’s hot topic. As a technology professional focused on cloud computing, IoT is the natural continuum, but in spite of eating up a lot of IoT literature, webinars, and the steady stream of newly unveiled innovations, I can’t help but feel the messaging for IoT outcomes is disconnected from a human quality and something I can personally look forward to.

IoT!!! So what?

When one looks around at the messaging on IoT, it’s very noticeable that there aren’t many people asking, “So what? How is IoT good for us after all?” I think this happens all too often, not because the more distant future is harder to imagine, but rather because of the “new-shiny (IoT) object” syndrome (i.e. geeking out on gadgets), and because most the messaging comes from those that have a present-day agenda to capitalize on the path to IoT. Those people naturally paint the picture from IoT back to their own current solutions, and just highlight the value they add right now. What about the bigger, long-term picture?

The technologist in me is very interested in all of those enablers: next-generation cloud, big data, machine learning, cognitive computing, better security, better sensors, actuators and advanced robotics in drones, cybernetics and bionics, and last but certainly not least, networking it all together… I think at the Consumer Electronics Show this year, radio (wireless networking) killed the video star.

The businessman, artist, and dreamer in me, however, cares less about the never-ending list of technology and its individual outcomes, and asks, “So what?” When all electronic systems are connected up to a brain that can collect data and process data in “smarter” ways (“smart” is the new tech-marketing prefix of the IoT era), we will see new forms of optimization, customization, automation, dynamic system feedback, new services, new products and new businesses. All of this is rooted in one thing: the power of new information. In this way, I think IoT leads us to fulfill the final stage of the Information Age.

IoT leads us to fulfill the final stage of the Information Age

That theory of course commands respect for the value of big data processing, that will power the brain of such smart systems that turns data into information. Also with respect to the realization of the Information Age, if we accept that name for our present time, that made me think, "What's next?"

Information on every aspect of everything that can be digitized, presents both exciting challenges and opportunities to humans that point to more compelling transformation than the tech itself.

On one hand the sheer magnitude of information that will be available poses an obvious challenge to the human mind, having limited ability to hold and process it. This should give artificial intelligence (AI) research a powerful incentive because an intelligence that could hold and use the information could achieve useful insights far beyond our own capacity. This points towards an AI revolution and new technological age.

On the other hand, the new uses of information, especially toward optimization and automation, will transform the scope of human capital as we know it. From a business standpoint, the opportunity to transform services sectors and services job functions is massive, since human capital is the primary contributing enabler and expense.

More personally exciting however, is thinking about what aspects of human capital, or our human skill set and human value will remain. Imagine refining our journey to self-actualization in a world where the signs of information show us what we humans are truly good at, what we humans are bad at, and where our incompetencies are our own worst enemy. Today, I believe it is a lack of solid and well-presented information that causes doubt, fear and differences in between communities. Anyone can share their “information” at will, and much of the Internet generation doesn’t differentiate between fact, research, and mere conjecture.

In the IoT era, proven information will be established in real and vast data. Though data with externalities and limitations (such as ecological boundaries and planetary time scales) will continue to provide imperfect information, I think we will have enough information to yield the dawn of a new age where we will evolve our global knowledge base to be applied toward a wholly improved respect for our Earth and interconnection all its people as we behold the education upon new information in the dawn of the Awareness Age.

Do you need information to live with awareness? Of course not. The native american indians lived with awareness and respect about the interconnectedness of all things. That was long before any technology at all. What is changing now, however, is that our decisions will not be based on beliefs, but on information. Some beliefs we hold and things we have and do, will be shown to be as ridiculous as knowing that the Earth is flat. Information is a powerful influencer when it is proven in data. With so much data to potentially generate and measure, what excites me now about the path to IoT and beyond, is witnessing information producing awareness from the questions that the world will ask.