I realize that many people have been working on and analyzing the IoT for several years, so it may appear as if I'm seeing something late in the game and mistaking a long-rolling snowball for a rocket launch. But I've made a career of being on the leading edge of technology, and been in the midst of too many trends too early to make such a mistake, in my humble opinion.
One sign to me is the mad rush by all the major technology vendors, worldwide, to devote large parts of their organization to the IoT, without the appearance of a coherent strategy for most of them. Let's look at a little history.
So many big technology companies missed out on the early days of the PC. IBM misjudged things so badly as to create one of the world's most dominant companies, Microsoft, and some of the world's richest people, in the process. Then Microsoft itself “missed the Internet,” in the words of no less than Bill Gates himself.
More recently, the rise of cloud computing was missed by some companies so badly, that the term “cloudwashing” was invented to describe latecomers such as Oracle.
The IoT is Here
But with the IoT, everybody is on board, even before rational predictions of IoT market size can be produced. We've seen estimates of billions or maybe trillions of devices going online within a few years, and of many billions or maybe many trillions of dollars of revenue. How can one be expected to make any sort of data-driven decision when the data varies by a factor of 1000X and more?
In fact, “market size” may not even apply to the IoT. The Internet of Things is thought of as The Internet of Everything (by Cisco), The Internet of People (by ex-HP and current Oracle exec Mark Hurd), and in reality may just be thought of as “the Internet.” Most people in the industry maintained in the early days of the PC that we were in the Model-T era of modern IT – with the IoT, maybe we've finally moved up to the '55 Chevy.
For me, I've decided to focus the activities of the Tau Institute, which I founded just in 2011, on the IoT – specifically, on IoT readiness. We are now seeking to answer questions about which nations, regions, cities, governments, NGOs, and companies are the most “IoT-Ready?”
As with our foundational research, we take a relative view of things – which nations (and cities, governments, NGOs, and companies) are doing the most with what they have? It's easy enough to know that Switzerland is wealthier than the Philippines, for example. It's more valuable to know which of the two is doing better on a relative basis, and on a current, instantaneous basis.
We currently survey 102 nations. We will be adding to that, and also integrating regions, cities, and all other categories mentioned above into our research. Most of this is on a custom basis, but as always, we'll continue to publish some general results for public consumption.
The Year 2040
My time horizon ends around the year 2040 – about 25 years from now. That's as far as I can see, and as far as the Institute will see for the time being. My colleagues at the Institute and I are less interested in smart toothbrushes than in the wholesale change the IoT can have on societies and the lives of people.
It's an ambitious goal – and perhaps full of folly and hubris – to think that the human problems of violence and poverty that have existed for many thousands of years will somehow be ameliorated, let alone resolved, with mere modern technology.
But we must have this goal. We're going with the mid-range estimate of 9 billion people on the planet by the year 2040. How can we bring 100% of those people to a reasonable living standard? How can we do so with a smart use of the earth's resources without slaying the golden goose?
Can We Make a Difference?
Can we make a dent in the seemingly intractable propensity of our species for violence, a trait that transcends borders, belief systems, and politics? How can we produce political and other societal leaders that aid in this quest rather than simply aid and abet people's most base instincts?
The 25-year period I outline here will go by in a flash. If we go back a mere 25 years, we're in 1989, when I was producing publications and events about CD-ROM, emerging laptop computers, and the dawn of dial-up connections to the Internet. It wasn't really that long ago. The year 2040 will be here in a flash. My hope is our research will make a positive contribution to the IoT and the world, and that the world will be a better place, if only slightly, a quarter-century from now.