Everything seems to be interconnected these days: computers, mobile phones, cars, even watches and pacemakers. Yet it is only the beginning.
This is a part of our series about global megatrends. Please read the introductory post.
Once upon a time, a young man sat down and wrote a love letter to his sweetheart. He then put his letter in an envelope and mailed it at the post office. Then he waited for a response. Days, maybe weeks passed by, and he was still looking out for the postman. Along with the young lover, thousands of others were waiting for their own letters, too. It used to take a long time, sometimes months, for a letter to reach the hands of its recipient. It was the “World Wide Wait,” one might paraphrase. The seemingly never-ending wait for a love letter was just a usual symptom of romantic affection. Patience was a virtue.
It seems to be part of human nature to connect things, how else can we explain our “always online” addiction. There are various evolutionary theories that attempt to explain this phenomenon. Not only do we like to communicate, but we also are fascinated by the communication itself. We are as good at rationalizing communication as we are monetizing it.
It is this economic rationale that indicates ubiquitous connectivity is on the rise. We are willing to pay a fortune to have continuously connected mobile phones, laptops and tablets: the US market for mobile data was worth $80 billion in 2012.
Today, there are even more upcoming mobile devices, such as watches and glasses. But why stop there? Imagine things like:
- Connected shoes. Running shoes that can measure your running speed to calculate your optimal pace and send it to a connected wristwatch.
- Connected wristwatch. It collects all of your personal information including vital signs. In emergency health situations, it calls a doctor. It tells you if your blood pressure and other indicators are normal. It helps you get enough rest by calculating an optimal sleep cycle. It can do anything your mobile phone can do today: sending and receiving messages, making calls, checking messages of any kind, etc.
- Connected seeing aid. Google Glass is only the first step in this direction. Soon the devices will be so small that they can be hidden in contact lenses or even in the eye itself. Augmented reality and instant video transmission to and from the eye will be possible.
- Connected dog/cat/pet collar. You will know when it is urgent to walk your pet, where your dog is if it runs away, and exactly when your cat needs to be fed. Your pet’s medical conditions will be always known and communicated to your mobile device.
- Smartphones will become more sophisticated. They will store all private and job-related data, make credit and loyalty cards obsolete, act as personal identification devices, and become multimedia powerhouses with all abilities today’s laptops and tablets offer. For security reasons, they will automatically lock when not near their owners. They can also be remotely destroyed when lost. They may eventually become part of our clothes or even our bodies as implantable devices with neural-interfaces.
- Connected cars. Internet-enabled cars are already a huge trend but autonomous vehicles will make car connectivity much more prevalent. Cars will be connected with their owners as well as government systems such as traffic control, technical services, and other cars to ensure maximum safety.
- Connected homes. Increasing energy costs will bring a revival of the once-ridiculed “smart home.” You will be able to connect to your heating to remotely warm up your home or to check its security status (alarm systems). You will even know if the milk in your fridge is still drinkable. Automatic cleaning systems will tidy up just before you come home from your holiday trip. Practically all of your home appliances will be connected: washing machines, dishwasher, vacuum cleaner (it will do its job automatically), all media devices, etc.
- Connected medical devices. All medical devices will be interconnected creating a continuous flow of information about the patient. It will ensure that all disciplines (dental, cardiologist, orthopedic, etc.) work in a holistic way.
It is obvious that such innovations can and will be viewed as beneficial by many customers.
To provide ubiquitous connectivity between so many things, each device will need a unique identity in the worldwide networks. Fortunately, technological development has recently extended the Internet’s capacity. Thanks to the new Internet protocol IPv6, there is no limit to the number of connected things. The IPv6 protocol is capable of 2128 unique addresses. That is 340,282,366,920,938,463,463,374,607,431,768,211,456. Such a huge number is hard to comprehend.
Imagine that every sand grain on Earth could have about 45 quintillions unique IP addresses* (!).
Consequently, virtually everything will have its own IP address: radios, mobile phones, earphones, shoes, and hairdryers. The “Internet of things” is the much-hyped expression that embraces this idea. Investors have already discovered this trend and view it as a multi-billion dollar opportunity. We will experience a huge increase in innovation and activity in this field during the next few years.
- We will all communicate instantly in “real-time” with each other. Communication will become a continuous activity. Instead of intentionally entering information in the form of instant messages or emails, future devices will support contextual messaging, such as location-based, behavioral (running vs. walking vs. driving), commercial (purchasing certain goods), social (working, learning, watching a movie, etc.) as well as emotional (missing the loved ones, being happy, crying, etc.) It will be a world of instant understanding.
- The very nature of communication will change. We will talk less but know more.
- Privacy will become a highly critical issue. The NSA scandal is only a tip of the iceberg of all the alarming privacy breaches occurring today. Today’s breaches are just a foretaste of what can–and likely will–happen to the concept of privacy in the age of ubiquitous connectivity.
- Life will become highly automated. Practically everything will have a connectivity feature and an interface (visual, acoustic, haptic, or all of them): toothbrushes, shoes, dishwashers, media devices, suitcases, tables and chairs, lights, heating, vacuum cleaners–literally everything. All things will work jointly to support household tasks. That will add leisure time for everyone.
- The pressure of the total interconnectivity will not be accepted by everyone. There will be groups–be they religious or of other natures–that will mostly or even utterly reject the concept of the ubiquitous connectivity, calling it inhumane, harmful, or evil. They will demand “disconnected zones” similar to Indian reservations.
- Advertising agencies will develop a new set of commercial strategies. Real-time advertisements will become one of the most important concepts. Ads will follow the stream of data and be presented visually, acoustically, and haptically to consumers. The way ads are presented to the audience will also evolve in a dramatic way. Today, ads are limited to billboards, TV sets, computer screens, and mobile displays. To work in an interconnected network, many more devices will have to become interactive. In the age of ubiquitous connectivity, ubiquitous advertisement space will become a reality.
- Advertising will become real-time: there will be no delay between the moment a person realizes the need for a product and an instantly delivered product advertisement.
- The number of ad-funded products will skyrocket. Nearly everything will be far cheaper or free if the users agree to be exposed to commercials.
- Military applications based on ubiquitous connectivity will be astonishing. Interconnected, real-time synchronized weapons will move individually or in swarms of machines in sizes from tiny flies to huge flying fortresses and reshape the nature of war. Armies will act very much like the Borg from Star Trek.
- Industrial espionage will be ubiquitous and nearly endless. There will be no such thing as secrecy. Ideas will be nothing; execution will be everything. Concepts will become public property similar to today’s open-source software.
- Open source will become a standard for all network devices due to security concerns.
- Health care will be revolutionized. Human organs will have individual IP addresses and become interconnected within the human body and beyond it. Any anomaly will be instantly transmitted to a personal monitoring device. Visiting a doctor will be a rare occurrence. Remote health care will be the norm.
- The data security business will become larger and more critical than the oil business is today.
- “Disconnected zones”, that are the places where the ubiquitous communication will be mostly suppressed, will become a larger business than today’s travel industry.
- The astronomic amounts of data generated by personalized, interconnected objects will fundamentally reshape the way the insurance industry works. Rates will be based on personal behavioral data and data-neutral plans will disappear. Insurers will offer a number of plans depending on the level of personal data collected and used. “Core data” plans will use only very fundamental data (like geographic and social fundamentals) and will be very expensive. Plans based on “full data usage”, where practically every aspect of the insurant and his environment will be used to manage risk. For example, smoking a cigarette will increase his premium while a daily jog will decrease it. Playing violent computer games at 3 a.m. with a beer in hand will increase the premium, but sleeping at least 8 hours each day will decrease the premium. Having a party with strangers will increase his premium while having less than one visit each month decreases the premium. This will impact virtually all aspects of personal insurance: health insurance, car insurance, household insurance, etc.
Will the world of ubiquitous connectivity be a better place? It is difficult to predict. Two hundred years ago, it often took days or weeks to communicate with each other. Today, everyone is just a phone call away. We find it difficult to justify going offline and not taking any calls even for a few hours. The 24/7 availability has become a norm. If someone from the 16th century could visit us, would he like it?
Ubiquitous connectivity will solve many problems on personal, social, and economic levels. It may create a more just, comfortable, and innovative world with possibilities we barely are able to comprehend today.
The price for the wonders of ubiquitous connectivity, however, may be high. The world will come to the verge of becoming an Orwellian place. The balance between benefit and peril will become extremely delicate. Human nature, especially its tendency to worship and abuse power, may be not ready for such world.
Ultimately, the ubiquitously interconnected world could become heaven or hell. Let us hope for the best.
* Earth contains an estimated number of 7.5 x 1018 of sand grains. With IPv6, every sand grain could have 2128 / 7.5 x 1018 = 45,370,982,256,125,128,461 (without the trailing decimal places) unique IP addresses.