How 'The Internet of Everything' will change all of our lives ... or, you know, won’t
Internet X, the Industrial Internet, the Internet of Things, the Internet of Everything, and, my personal favorite, the Thingternet — a mashup of the terms in the most common moniker, “The Internet of Things” — they're all different names for the same thing.
If you’re unfamiliar with these terms, don’t worry. They will increasingly become a part of our lives, for better or worse. The concept is simple enough: while the “traditional internet” is focused on the data that makes up the internet (without the average user really caring about where the data is located), the Internet of Things is focused on just that, the things that are connected to the internet. (And special attention is given to the precise geographic location of where each device resides.)
And we’re not talking the obvious things that have an internet connection — smartphones, PCs, tablets, and laptops.
Increasingly, there is a whole host of devices that are connected to the internet in some way or another: cameras, oil derricks, industrial pumps, household appliances, life-saving medical devices, cars, traffic lights, office building heating-control systems, water treatment facilities, baby monitors, massive turbines, jet aircraft, and even power plant controls. This is much more than just your average Roomba.
Most of us interact with the Internet of Things in some form or another on a daily basis — we just don’t realize it. Few people are familiar with it, but that is changing quickly.
Skynet assimilates targetsG.E. acquires key partnerships
The idea of an Internet of Things has been in the news quite a bit recently, in no small part due to G.E., makers of everything, pushing the possible advances of a globally connected “Industrial Internet” quite strongly in recent months.
According to an extensive research paper General Electric published in November of 2013, “The Industrial Internet: Pushing the Boundaries of Minds and Machines,” GE predicts the industrial internet will be big money — a potential $10 to $15 trillion added to the world economy by 2030. And the General of Electric would like his cut.
According to the New York Times, G.E. has been positioning itself to dominate the Industrial Internet by forging new partnerships with Cisco, AT&T, and Intel. In addition, G.E. has sizable investments in Pivotal, “a company building Industrial Internet applications,” which also collaborates with I.B.M. (Skynet conspiracy theorists, step up to the buffet.) If your company wants to control an Internet of Everything, those would be some of the top names you would want on board.
While there are many companies working on developing their own Internet of Everything projects, it is G.E. and its close association of partners that are spearheading the efforts of bring the Industrial Internet to the next stage of its evolution.
Endless data is key to Internet of Things
The more things that are connected to the Internet of Things, the more data that is being generated. If you’re unfamiliar with the Industrial Internet, it’s easy to think that it’s a small thing slowly taking off, but nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, in 2008 the number of things connected to the internet exceeded the number of people on earth.
There are more than 10.7 billion things connected to the Internet, and by 2020, Cisco predicts that number will push past 50 billion, “or 2.7 percent of the total things in the world.” For the numbers wonks out there, Cisco has even created a constantly changing “Connections Counter” which estimates the total number of things connected to the Internet of Everything.
Each one of those things is generating data, and as more and more connections are made, the amount of data generated is increasing at an exponential rate. That data is where G.E. and its partners are hoping to see huge returns.
Step right up, behold the wondrous Thingternet!
In its report, G.E. envisions an Internet of Everything with a wide and far-reaching scope, which seems to ask Who knows what wonders the future may hold? Here are a few of the types of machine-connected advances G.E. predicts we may see in a fully realized Internet of Everything.
Windmill turbines that constantly analyze their own “health,” examine wind velocities, changes in pressure, and combine all of that information to improve efficiency, and lower maintenance costs. A jet engine could let the ground crew know it needs necessary repairs.
Conveyor belts could determine the optimum spin-coefficient for workers to increase productivity during peak staffing hours at a factory. A hydroelectric generator could analyze weather conditions and adjust its velocity to maximize output during seasonal flooding rains. (G.E.’s paper includes an exhaustive list of “Things that Spin: Illustrative List of Rotating Machines” on page 16.)
The changes executed by these data-centric algorithms may, in some cases, yield only a few percentage points of improvement over normal operation for industrial machines; but factored out over time, G.E. sees huge costs savings (and potential profits) by implementing these types of productivity transitions.
In the aviation industry, for example, G.E. writes, “If Industrial Internet technologies can achieve only one percent in cost reduction, this would represent nearly $2 billion per year — or about $30 billion in fuel cost savings over 15 years.” (Page 20.)
Other industries may see a much larger boost in improvement (and, again, profit), G.E. says; and that could translate to millions — or billions — of dollars saved year-over-year.
Talk to me, baby
One of the key problems to overcome is the management and integration of this amazing mess of devices. The machines need to be “taught” how to talk to each other. The data needs to be analyzed, and as the quantity of data generated reaches staggering proportions, there will be an increasing need for specialists to do just that.
Indeed, it looks as if the amount of data generated will quickly outstrip the capacity of people trained to analyze it before there is a balance in the field. This will lead to new Big Data analysis jobs across a host of industries, along with continued growth in the IT sector. Improved software is a start, but there will always be people behind the machines, no matter how smart they become.
The Digital Forest for the Pixelated Trees
Perhaps the only thing that’s more impressive than the potential of the Internet of Things is the hype surrounding it.
There's no doubt that the Industrial Internet, the Internet of Things, or whatever you want to call it, is going to have a large impact on the future (especially on the bottom-lines for several companies maneuvering into key positions); but in all reality, if G.E. can utilize the Industrial Internet to increase lightbulb manufacturing productivity by 6 percent for the fiscal year, it doesn't really make one bit of difference to the average person.
It’s easy for the technophile to see the interconnectivity of everything as a panacea for many technological and industrial ills: More data is always a good thing, right? An endless stream of more comprehensive data may improve productivity, but it doesn't guarantee success.
Tech journalist Dan Farber expressed these thoughts well in a recent article for CNET:
“In other words, the more connections the better. But even with 50 billion things, billions more people, and zetabytes of data trying to tell us what to do, we’ll still be able to make poor decisions.”
G.E. is owned by General Electric [GE].
Intel semiconductors is owned by the Intel Corporation [INTC].
I.B.M. is owned by The International Business Machines Corporation [IBM].
Cisco is owned by Cisco Systems, Inc. [CSCO].
AT&T is owned by AT&T Inc. [T].
Pivotal CRM is a registered trademark of Aptean & CDC Software.
Roomba is a registered trademark of iRobot [IRBT].
Skynet is self-aware and is owned by Cyberdyne Systems Corporation.
Microsoft is owned by the Microsoft Corporation [MSFT].
[Editor's Note: Cisco has been reevaluating how it calculates the number of devices that "count" as connected devices in the Internet of Things. As such, the corresponding screenshot may not reflect the current number progression of their "live" counter.]