29 April, 2013 - 09:00 By News Desk

IoT: Grandest opportunity, most stubborn challenges

Chris Rezendes, president of Inex Advisors

What will you tell your children about the beginning of the 21st century? What will you tell them you did? To help rebuild the planet after the great recession? About ‘the leadership gap’? Unemployment, income inequality and poverty? Public safety and privacy? Intolerance and extremism?

What will you tell them you did with all this technology? All this information? All these tools? With all this time, talent and capital? My daughter is 7; my son 11. They are perfectly imperfect children; gifts, I believe.

And just as I work every day to insure that they have a sound roof, clean clothes, healthy food, support with school, and choices to explore; I work every day on my answers to those questions. For I know I will need them.

Their lives are not and will not be perfect. They will have days when they have the answers and they feel power. They will have moments when they are confused and hurt. And then they will ask me about one condition or state or another. They will ask how could this be, or that be? How did this thing happen and that other one not?

I know these questions are coming and I know I will need answers, because they are asking me even now. About bombings in Boston. And shootings in Newtown. Why so many little kids have to work in other parts of the world. About buildings collapsing in Bangledesh. And children being sold to pay debts in Afghanistan. So I work to keep them safe – and I work on my answer. It begins with: I am working on the Internet of Things (IoT).

The Grandest Opportunity IoT is this powerful combination of all the technologies that you know – and many that you do not. The internet. Tiny little sensors. Connected over all sorts of wired and wireless networks. Sending information to larger computers that combine that sensor data with all sorts of other information.

The tiny little sensors will be built into or attached to just about any physical object in the world – any asset or resource or environment. Trees and tidal pools. Cars and trucks and buses. Appliances and animals at home. People even. We might put sensors in or on people. Those sensors will collect and share data – about anything and everything you might want to know about.

That ‘other’ data that your sensors combine with could be other sensors, it could be tweets or other social media updates. It could be anything from the part of the web that is not ‘dark’ or ‘deep’ but available to you when you search Google. It could be public or private, open or secret databases from companies and governments. All that will be cool – and scary.

It will be cool because then you will be able to create something that the people that I work with call ‘ground truth’. You will have data, objective facts, about that tree or tidal pool, that machine or that vehicle, that room or that field, that patient or that criminal. The data in that ground truth will complement certain aspects of our perceptions about those things; and displace our misperceptions. And that ground truth will help us all make better decisions about how to manage our time on earth.

If we are intentional in our development and deployment of the Internet of Things, we will be able to help you to create more meaning and money and, most importantly, more time with and for the people you love.

Time: Most Stubborn Challenges This will not be easy. We need a lot of people to change their minds about a couple of really big ideas. And then we need them to act on those new beliefs. There are so many, but, for now, let’s start with three.

1. Time. To begin with, we need to elevate time as equal to or more important than money. You see, the adage ‘time is money’ sells time short. Time is everything. Money matters. But so too does meaning.

2. Data. We will need to stop being afraid of facts. The Internet of Things – with its power to create all those new forms of ground truth – has the power to settle so many arguments that people are having over their perceptions of things. For when we have ground truth, it will be hard for people backing the untrue position to continue to fight. If we can accept the new facts.

3. Trust. We will need to learn to trust more – and verify. See, we have not always been so good at accepting that people can be both trusting and require verification. It is why we do not trust as much as we should – because too many people are not comfortable with verification processes. It will be scary if we cannot make progress on these ideas.

It will be scary if we take all this time, talent and capital and we deploy the internet of things to develop more ground truth on you and your likes and dislikes so that we can create a broader, deeper, more isolating echo chamber so that we can extract more money from you. Because then that means we will have not realized the fullest potential of the IoT is in solving our big challenges, not selling you things to supposedly make your lives easier. You have never asked for easier.

It will be scary if after all that effort and energy, too many people still think of you and your sister as ‘consumers’ or units of production. Because that is unfortunately how too many people with too much power are thinking of all of us now. Buyers and sellers only.

It will be scary if after all that we learn about you and your peers, and Gen Y and Millenials, and my friends and enlightened elders, that we cannot create meaningful work for more people. Because that may be the most important thing we can offer you in the physical world. Meaningful work.

So, without apology, this is the best thing that I can think to do with my time and talent to feed my kids today and try to contribute to the grandest opportunity. I believe that the Internet of Things can be that powerful lever to create ground truth with the right data; to engender more trust among people and institutions and to elevate time as the most important outcome of our efforts.

IoT will actualize the great synthesis between people and machines; analog and digital; silicon and carbon. I hope we can be meaningful and intentional in how we build it and deploy it.

For if we are going to connect and digitize the physical world, we need to make sure that we get it right. There is nothing wrong with – maybe nothing more right than – meaningful work.• Article written by Chris Rezendes, president of Inex Advisors, Massachusetts. Chris will be speaking on the Internet of Things on June 27 at the Nerve disruptive technology conference in Cambridge.

 

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