When futurists talk about technology to come, it’s easy to start imagining tales spun by the likes of Issac Asimov and William Gibson (or whoever your favourite science-fiction author happens to be), and that’s the case with Cisco Systems‘ chief futurist. However, some of what Cisco’s futurist talks about regarding the Internet is already here. An evolution in the fundamentals of the Internet is happening right now, and it’s only going to continue.
Dave Evans, chief futurist and chief technologist for the Internet Business Solutions Group (IBSG) at Cisco, calls the current evolution that’s going on with the decades-old Internet the “Internet of Things.” According to Evans, the World Wide Web has arguably gone through four distinct changes in its nearly 20-year history, but the Internet has remained fundamentally the same since the early days. Technologies have changed, standards have come and gone, but the Internet really hasn’t evolved at its base level since the days when it wasn’t used outside of academia and government.
“My premise here today is we’re seeing the first true evolution of the Internet. Why is that? Partly we’re seeing shift in architectural models. The new Internet, if you will, is becoming more mobile than fixed,” Evans said.
What is the Internet of Things? At the core of this evolution of the Internet is the idea that the Internet becomes more sensory — more proactive and less reactive. It also takes into account that the world has hit a point where there are more devices connecting to the Internet than people doing so. As Evans put it, his home has 38 devices that require an always-on Internet connection, and he seen exponential growth in the amount of bandwidth and network traffic in his home in the last 20 years (growth that is only going to continue on a steep climb).
Additionally, computing has gone micro (with some computers getting as small as 1mm x 1mm x 1mm), and soon every device will be Wi-Fi-enabled.
“One of the side-effects, if you will, is we’re creating data at an unprecedeneted rate,” Evans said. To put that in perspective, he noted it took 200 years to fill the US Library of Congress, but Internet users now create the equivalent in digital data every two minutes.
As one of the top 10 predicted technology trends of the next decade, Evans said the Internet of Things is one of the fundamental technologies that will really change and influence how people work, play and learn.
“It’s arguably one of the most significant evolutions of the Internet,” Evans said.
People around the world are already finding creative ways of using the Internet. A Cisco white paper on the Internet of Things noted a report from The Economist on a Dutch start-up company that implant wireless-enabled sensors into the ears of cows to monitor the health and track movements of their cattle. On average, each cow is generating 200MB of information every year. Another interesting use of technology is the Talking Tree, a tree in Brussels outfitted with sensors that automatically tweets information constantly. The tree has more than 4,000 followers on Twitter.
These kinds of creative uses of technology and the Internet are just the beginning.