Will the Internet of Things & Services Address Real World Challenges?

The term Internet of Things introduced earlier distinguishes between the past generation of the internet — the internet of people — and a new level of ubiquity and interconnection, which will allow direct linking and communication between “things” (devices, products, sensors, apps, etc.) without human intervention. The interactions will be driven by data accessible to or produced by these “things.” As we have not found a simple definition of the term “Internet of Things” we refer to this phenomenological definition in our Glossary although there are several suggested definitions. Clearly we are talking about a system of systems. The complexity of this network will far surpass what human intellect has created before, and the rate of innovation and growth will accelerate.

Internet Minute

We can expect a rapid growth in dynaxity. “Dynaxity” is an artificial word created to express both growth along the complexity dimension and the accelerating rate of change (dynamics) [Rieckmann 2000]. Dynaxity is a property of living and social systems. The Internet of Things and its subsystems will exhibit growing dynaxity. This dynaxity cannot be mastered by mastering the subsystems of the Internet of Things. We need a holistic systems approach.
A thing is not just an object. “A thing is an object invested in by people with care in the context of power,” according to Adam Greenfield. Martin Heidegger’s discussion in his German essay “Das Ding” [Heidegger 1950] can be translated as: the term thing has two meanings. On the one hand it defines relevant objects. On the other hand the term thing (Old English and Icelandic: þing) describes the governing assembly of the free people in the communities of Germanic societies. The relationship of things and their communities was lost over time and might be re-born.
The technology of the Internet of Things will be deployed, whether society is prepared, or not. Technology evangelists and market researchers alike predict an unprecedented impact on society, on the systems society operates, and those these systems are operating on — the citizens of spaceship Earth. In the coming years the Internet of Things will increasingly connect “intelligent” things, which themselves are represented by sub-systems according to Uckelmann’s definition. These sub-systems will use the internet to communicate with each other — quite a recursive structure — fractal like living systems. Some estimates state that in less than ten years the Internet of Things will interconnect more than 50 billion such things: “Connecting me changes my life. Connecting everything changes everything … . All products and services that can benefit from connectivity will be connected. … We believe that by 2020 it is going to be 50 billion devices connected to the network” [Vestberg 2011]. Mark Weiser predicted the miniaturization of computation and the weaving of sensors into our daily life in his vision of “The Computer for the 21th Century” [Weiser 1999]. What he defined as “ubiquitous computing'” later became the “Internet of Things.”
In order to emphasize that this is not just about “things” and technology, but about “value” to the members of society, we use the term “Internet of Things & Services” (IoTS). Thinking of services purely as connectivity of things is far to narrow. Yes, “Everything will be connected to everything else,” but “no one has any idea what all those connections will mean” [Lucky 1999].  Meaning will be assigned at societal level as the fabric of society changes.Beyond the connectivity emerges the real potential. Many different and now interconnectable domains offer themselves for applications:

  • Health: tighter connections between physicians, hospitals, rescue centers, and patient supervision, prevention support by using modern technologies.
  • Mobility: a sophisticated charging infrastructure for electric vehicles, an intelligent system to orchestrate the related services, a new industry with connected vehicles, charging or mobility service providers, and utilities. Also individual mobility will be embedded in a wider multi-modal mobility framework connecting much better with public transport.
  • Production: taking the pull mechanism of lean production to the extreme, real-time decisions will derive from event-driven supply chains and diagnostics.
  • Energy: Energy Management optimized to balance energy demand and consumption regionally and globally, at utilities, at industrial, at communal or at private consumers.

A complete list cannot even be anticipated now – new systems and features will emerge at an increasing pace. Some examples can be found in this top50 list or at postscapes. Turning this optimistic science fiction scenario of “benefit for all” into a global reality still requires a lot of hard work – technologically and socially. The required connectivity does not come free, and common approaches and standard practices are needed to make devices “connectable.” Highly efficient and more intelligent ways of turning an incredible volume of dynamic data into the intelligible information are required for services to function. Existing systems must be integrated right from the beginning to avoid “legacy traps” or geographical “exclusion zones”. And these are merely some technical challenges.

The Matrix

Over the last 30 years a new, somehow transcendent virtual world. has been created by software and the internet. The virtual world includes the huge space of content on the internet; the social interactions via eMail, chat, or social software; the adventures in computer gaming; 3D product design with CAD; information system and ERP in business. Up to now the virtual world has been connected to the real world via humans and their computers. In the Internet of Things & Services this connection will not necessarily need humans. Therefore, the virtual world and the real world will merge. Are we entering the Matrix? No, we are in control. And if we use the technology empathically it offers new degrees of freedom to solve problems in the real world.

Everything around us changes. And it changes ever faster. These developments are potentially beneficial, because they will force us to a paradigm shift in thinking — at the level of the individual, the team, family, company, and society. J.F. Kennedy referred to the necessity of change: “We are not here to curse the darkness, but to light the candle that can guide us through that darkness to a safe and sane future. … Today our concern must be with that future. For the world is changing. The old era is ending. The old ways will not do.” [Kennedy 1960]

More than 50 years later the challenges have not lessened:

  • Urbanization continues to destroy rural infrastructure and megacities grow uncontrollable
  • Destruction of rural infrastructures through natural or man-made continually causes famine
  • Ecological challenges are compounded by wasteful energy utilization
  • Energy and water are scarce
  • Financial systems appear to be in free fall.

This is not an attempt at a complete listing of challenges, and, besides, they interact with each other – there is no easy “divide and conquer strategy”. However, in the same way these challenges combine to appear more complex at ever decreasing cycles humankind can now learn to act as a global mind and ensure systemic use of its resources. Only then can “Dynaxibility” match Dynaxity.

The are promisingly many indicators of movements in such a direction:

  • Strengthened humanist movements — grassroot level based
  • Concern about ethics, as expressed for example in Transparency International
  • Emphasis on creativity and understanding diversity as precondition
  • End of Social-Darwinism
  • Vastly expanding scientific boundaries and rediscovery of human consciousness
  • Purposeful communities.

These developments are not independent of concurrent scientific and technological developments as we can clearly see by looking at industry today and just a decade or two ago. Value orientation begins to replace profit orientation. The concepts of value creation in industry today are either based on traditional business concepts or on open business ecosystems — two worlds poised to clash.

Will the Internet of Things & Services address real world challenges? What do you think?

Let us look to other turbulent times in history before we come back to this.

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7 Responses to Will the Internet of Things & Services Address Real World Challenges?

  1. Thomas says:

    I like the statement “Value orientation begins to replace profit orientation” and I really hope it’s not just wishful thinking. Companies are very good in finding out what society expects from them and then making the society believe that they cared – while actually changing close to nothing. An example? Look at your preferred smartphone vendor (the sect). After the society blamed it many times regarding the treatment of the Chinese workers (wage dumping) they invent some certificate and start the propaganda machinery. This is not value orientation.

    • stefferber says:

      Thomas, first of all we would like you to give the credits for the first comment on this blog and we hope that this was just your starting point 😉
      You mention the example of wage dumping and the social implications. Yes, I have to agree. I would even strengthen your argument that the western world “outsourced” not only the production work force but all the problems that arise with that: social unbalance, energy demand, natural resource requirements, and environmental impact. Hence, as people are connected socially over the internet it is difficult to hide these side effects today. I think double value standards of companies are not really sustainable.

    • Hans-Jürgen says:

      You are absolutely right. This is pure profit orientation. My hope is that the internet as a medium will contribute to expose such behaviour, and that there will be more than enough good examples. This is something I’d like to pick up on after we introduce “the war of the worlds.”

  2. Peter Dreyer says:

    Thanks for your IoT review!

    “Will IoT adress real world challenges?” I suppose it will, like the internet for people did once it matured, got out of the hands of the lab rats, got rid of Second Life utopias and offered platforms and interfaces allowed the majority of us to access, produce and combine data to create new value. Solutions to global challenges will require that the global population understands and have skills/means to create value by adding and combining new components to IoT. My point being IoT is still in its infant stage, driven by programmers and gadget enthusiasts – they (we) may not be the best at identifying the burning platforms and finding solutions. As we had to wait for Internet 2.0, we will probably have to wait for IoT 2.0.

    • Hans-Jürgen says:

      Fair enough, the IoT will not and can not be a finished product from day one. And this s good. This allows to involve those who should be concerned, because they will be affected. We should start now to get these people involved in looking what the IoT might be beyond its infancy. Looking for such patterns in the past is helping to sharpen our vision.

  3. Rory MacDonald says:

    A very interesting post, pulling together a lot of extremely diverse topics.
    I find that your view of IoT (certainly the four bullets you list) has a very corporate view of what is being created. Corporations seem to take a very top-down, systematic view of IoT and its implementation. Things are created to fulfil a systemic vision rather than to create one.

    For me one of the most inspirational things about the IoT, is the way the free culture, open source and hackers are leading the way in many, many areas. People are creating open things for fun, or to “scratch and itch”, many of the things I have seen are closer to art than the very dry, purposed things envisaged by the corporate world. There is an interesting focus on ambient awareness of very human/emotional factors.

    When these open source things are connected, remixed and repurposed, we see very different, bottom-up systems emerging organically. For me this is where the real IoT will come from.

  4. Gladys says:

    I have read so many content regarding the blogger lovers except this
    post is in fact a nice piece of writing, keep it up.

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