It may seem sometimes that the digital age and the “Internet of Things” concept has been over-hyped. Does it really make that big of a difference if your fridge has an Internet connection? Doesn’t it keep your food cool just fine without one?
But Shawn DuBravac, the chief economist and senior director of research for the Consumer Electronics Association, believes the proliferation of computers portends nothing less than a new economic era for humanity. DuBravac will speak on Tuesday, December 8, from 3:30 to 6 p.m. at the Rutgers Heldrich Center for Workforce Development in New Brunswick. Tickets are $75. For more information on the speech, which is part of Einstein Alley’s “Future of Work” series, visit www.einsteinsalley.org.
DuBravac, who earned his undergraduate and Ph.D. degrees in economics from Brigham Young and George Mason universities, has a senior role at the CEA, which represents 2,000 consumer electronics companies. He is widely published and is a frequent speaker on technology and economics, and has taught at George Washington, Mary Washington, and George Mason universities. Before joining the CEA, he was head research analyst for the economic analysis group of the Department of Justice Antitrust Division.
In his latest book, “Digital Destiny: How the New Age of Data Will Transform the Way We Work, Live, and Communicate,” published in 2015, DuBravac argues that the future of work will change in dramatic ways because of the spread of computing.
Following is an excerpt from that book:
In 2008, the number of “things” connected to the Internet surpassed the number of people on the planet. Cisco predicts the number of connected things will grow to between 15 and 25 billion by 2015, before exploding to 40 or 50 billion by 2020. Another eye-popping estimate from Cisco: that 50-billion total predicted for 2020 would represent only four percent of the “things” on earth, a far cry from the level of connected objects we may one day realize.
As objects are digitized and add capabilities such as context awareness, processing power, and energy independence, and as more people and new types of information are connected, the Internet of Things grows exponentially. It becomes a network of networks where billions or even trillions of connections create boundless opportunities for businesses, individuals, and countries.
Indeed, as Cisco chairman and CEO John Chambers said during his keynote address at the 2014 International CES, “the Internet of Everything will be five to ten times more impactful in the decade than the entire Internet has been to date.” In other words: you ain’t seen nothing yet.
There is a tremendous amount of experimentation taking place today. Device makers are leveraging mobile devices to connect things to the Internet that were previously unimaginable, such as keys, coffee pots, thermostats, and health and fitness monitors. And as these connected devices get smaller, faster, and more affordable, their market penetration is posed to take off. What was once technically difficult and not commercially viable because of cost and size is quickly becoming both technically and commercially feasible.
It is critical to note that the Internet of Things is about more than just technology; it’s about people. Value will not come just from connecting physical things but from successfully routing the data these connected things capture to the right person, at the right time, and on the right device, to enable better decisions. We are increasingly surrounded by billions of connections; providing these connection points with intelligence will, in turn, influence everything we do.
At the very center of all this turmoil is an ancient concept: data. Human beings have been compiling data since the first cuneiform scripts — used to help ancient traders — were written. As technology has advanced, so has our ability to collect, analyze, and use more and more kinds of data. But when compared to other subjects of technological advancements, data has been relatively stable — because for centuries modes of data collection and distribution remained unchanged. The world may have been using better mechanical technology that allowed us to produce more, travel faster, stay warmer, and eat better, but we still saw and captured data in the same way. Until the advent of digital technologies, the number of pure data “advances” was relatively small: Gutenberg’s printing press, the telegraph, Morse code, radio, television, and the telephone. These inventions allowed data to be obtained at a rate never seen before. But for the most part, advances in the acquisition and transmission of data progressed at a snail’s pace compared to other mechanical innovations.
Then digitization happened: finally, we had something that could harness the infinite amount and subsequent power of data. Data is everywhere around us. But most of this data goes unnoticed and uncaptured. How quickly your vehicle consumes gas is a simple example of data a that historically was only measured manually. In the past it required you to manually divide the number of miles driven by the reading on your fuel gauge, and because the fuel gauge was analog it was an imprecise exercise at best. It was something you did at intervals rather than continuously, and, if you performed the calculation while you were driving, the data was out of date by definition by the time you finished the arithmetic. But through technological advances this data is now measured digitally and continuously, and algorithms can use it to inform you of things such as how many miles you have left until you run out of gas or your average fuel efficiency.
Data surrounds us. It is how fast you are reading this right now, your heart rate and blood pressure, your commute time yesterday and every day before that, the length of time you brushed each tooth, and, for that matter, the pressure you applied to each tooth. This is all data. Data, in all its forms, is indeed infinite. But until now, this data was unavailable to us. It existed, but we had no way of recording it in a systematic way and making use of any of it. The simple fact is that human beings were unable to capture and enter all the data necessary to make fully informed decisions. It was a task beyond our ability.
The fuel of the next industrial revolution will not be mechanical inventions as it has been through all the ages of history. The lifeblood of tomorrow’s world will be data, in all its manifestations. By developing machines that can finally capture and make sense of the data, we will unlock solutions to problems that have tormented us since the origin of man. How to eliminate road fatalities is but one of these problems. The digital revolution will also allow us to create solutions to problems we never even knew existed.
That’s what our Digital Destiny is really about. It’s not just an abundance of cool gadgets and fun toys. IT’s not just better TV resolution or safer cars. Humanity’s future — our destiny — is an increased ability to harness the power of data through digitization.