Who owns the future?

Occasionally a book will provide the opportunity for the reader to travel back in time and delve into the mind of an author that was thinking far ahead, at least as far as the reader’s present. What a pleasure to now read Jaron Lanier‘s Who Owns the Future? which was published in the months following reelyActive’s incorporation. Then was a time when we were thinking about humans’ place in a world of ubiquitous radio-identification and real-time location. Lanier was thinking about humans’ place in the evolving information economy. In 2015 we took a critical look back on our first ever pitch. In this blog post we’ll take a critical look back on our history in light of Lanier’s predictions and arguments, starting with the central premise of his book:

The foundational idea of humanistic computing is that provenance is valuable. Information is people in disguise, and people ought to be paid for the value they contribute that can be sent or stored on a digital network.

We’re off to a good start as this is directly in line with our long-established mission: to unlock the value of the data you choose to share. Nonetheless, our mission has often been a hard sell in the absence of a marketplace in which such contributions can actually be monetised. However we’re not alone in envisaging this as we discussed last year in Micro-transactions with macro-implications. And the notion that Data is Human is not without precedent either.

But how will the provenance of people’s contributions be captured and recorded?

Everyone will need to have a unique commercial identity in a universal public market information system. That contrasts with the way things work currently, where machines have unique identities, like IP addresses, but people don’t.

In 2013, the year the book was published, we were hard at work on the premise for people to have unique identities, not unlike IP addresses. Before Apple officially launched iBeacon, we demonstrated how the technology could be used in reverse to serve this exact purpose. A few months later, in a presentation entitled Advertise Yourself, we pitched this concept to industry leaders, including to those of tech’s Big Four, at Bluetooth World in Silicon Valley.

But who will administrate these unique personal identities?

This is one of those cases where you have to choose the least of evils. You might not like the idea of a universal online identity, but face it, if you don’t allow one to come about in the context of government, it will happen anyway through companies like Google and Facebook. You might like and trust these companies now more than you like or trust the government, but you should see what happens to tech companies as they age.

In 2017 we demonstrated how Google could use their Physical Web as a means for users to opt-in to a physical-digital identity, as well as how Facebook could leverage their mobile app to a similar, although likely less transparent, end. A year later, Google had killed off their Physical Web and Facebook was mired in the Cambridge Analytica scandal. You should see what happens to tech companies when they age indeed!

So when might we expect this all to turn around?

Another basic function of the design of power must be to facilitate long-term thinking. Is it possible to invest in something that will pay off in thirty years or a hundred, or is everything about the next quarter, or even the next quarter of a millisecond?

That’s a question we asked that same year in our post on creating the next computing industry. As Alan Kay, veteran of Xerox PARC (which did think long-term) and creator of the Dynabook (which inspired the iPad), wrote to us: “I’ve never heard of VCs being interested in time frames like that.”

So there’s no chance for a startup to bring to life this vision of the future?

[A] startup-driven scenario is not absolutely impossible. A new startup could conceivably gain more clout that Facebook, and then stay true to its original intent, goading a critical mass of other, older Siren Servers into a new, humanistic phase of activity.

A—funded—startup staying true to its original intent is easier said than done, which is perhaps why Lanier seems not overly optimistic about this scenario. However, there are emerging alternatives as we discuss in Purpose, commitment and accountability, specifically around rethinking ownership. It would be fair to say that we’ve embraced the arduous task of actually testing whether a startup-driven scenario is in fact not absolutely impossible.

Should we press on? How do we stay true?

Please do that, but please also stop once per hour and check yourself:   Are you still keeping people in the center?   Is it still all about the people?   Are you really avoiding the lazy trapdoor of falling back into thinking of people as components and a central server as being the only point of view for defining efficiency or testing efficacy?

Taking comfort in our alignment with Lanier’s hypothesis and predictions in this critical look back at our past seven years, we shall indeed press on, continuing to keep people in the centre of our vision for the future.   Who owns the future?   Perhaps reassuringly, there is still no consensus on the answer to that question!

RFID Journal Live 2019

Oh the irony of human-entered data at an RFID conference. Ten years ago, Kevin Ashton, who coined the term “Internet of Things”, explained in RFID Journal:

We need to empower computers with their own means of gathering information […] without the limitations of human-entered data.

Case in point, the badge: the surname and given name are reversed, with the latter mispelled misspelled as a result of human data entry during onsite registration from a paper & pencil form. Nonetheless, this is an excellent example for emphasising the potential of RFID and the IoT!

Indeed, at the co-hosted IEEE RFID event, I, Jeffery Jeffrey, presented a workshop entitled Co-located RFID Systems Unite! focused on this potential now that there are nearly 20 billion RAIN (passive) and BLE (active) units shipping annually. An open architecture for collecting, contextualising and distributing the resulting data is becoming critical, and I was pleased to hear this sentiment echoed on the RFID Journal side by Richard Haig of Herman Kay and Joachim Wilkens of C&A.

Also heard echoed was the prevalence of BLE (active RFID) throughout the conference. Literally.

This contraption which converts radio decodings into musical notes may seem odd at first, but over the past year we’ve learned that art is a powerful tool for conveying to a non-technical audience the prevalence and potential of RFID and IoT in our daily lives. A few attendees were invited to listen with headphones and walk around until they found a silent spot. None were successful.

And we can only expect such prevalence to increase with energy harvesting technology maturing. We were pleased to see Wiliot’s live demo of an energy harvesting BLE tag, making good on their objectives from last year’s conference. Inexpensive battery-free BLE will be key to RFID proliferating to all the physical spaces in which we live, work and play—the BLE receiver infrastructure is often already there.

Which came first: the RFID or the Digital Twin?

The concept of the Digital Twin has also taken off over the past year, and we were pleased to have the opportunity to ask Jürgen Hartmann which came first in the Mercedes-Benz car factory example he presented? His answer was clear:

“Without RFID, for us there is no Digital Twin.”

Ironically, our April Fool’s post from two days previous was about Digital Conjoined Twins where we joked that the digital twin resides in the optimal location: adjacent to the physical entity that it represents. Perhaps not so silly in the context of industrial applications highly sensitive to latency???

RFID projects championed by the organisation’s finance department?

That is exactly what Joachim Wilkens of C&A argued. The success of their retail RFID deployment was in direct consequence of the C-level being on board, but more importantly by having a business case championed by the finance department:

“This is not an IT project, this is a business project.”

While we’ve observed our fair share of tech-driven deployments over the past few years, we’re increasingly seeing measurable business outcomes. For instance, a recent workplace occupancy deployment delivered, within months, a 15% savings in real-estate. That is a business project—one the finance department would love to repeat!

IoT: the next generation

What will we discuss in our RFID Journal Live 2029 blog post when the IoT celebrates its third decade?   That may well be in the hands of the next generation.   Since we began attending the co-hosted IEEE RFID and RFID Journal Live in 2013, we’ve observed a slow but steady shift in demographics. A younger generation—one which grew up with the Internet—is succeeding the generation instrumental in the development and commercialisation of RFID. On the showroom floor, we’re talking about the Web and APIs. At the IEEE dinner we’re discussing industry-academia collaboration to teach students about applications and ethics. And in the IEEE workshops, ASU Prof. Katina Michael took the initiative to invite one of her undergraduate students to argue the (highly controversial) case for implantables, effectively ceding centre stage to the next generation.

RFID's next generation is coming of age

The final print copy of RFID Journal we received back in 2012 is entitled “RFID’s Coming of Age”. Today I would argue that RFID’s next generation is coming of age. 1999 saw the emergence of the terms IoT and Web 2.0. Might we expect 2019 to mark the emergence of the term RFID 2.0?

Micro-transactions with macro-implications

At McRock Capital’s annual IIoT Symposium, which took place this week, a panel of experts was asked:

Does the ideal architecture for Smart Cities look more like the Internet or more like an operating system (ex: AOL)?

Panelists Kurtis McBride of Miovision and Dan Riegel of Sidewalk Labs both argued for the former.   —But wait.—   The Internet was primarily government-funded and took decades to build, whereas both Miovision and Sidewalk Labs are venture-backed companies, and, critically, Alan Kay reminded us last year:

“I’ve never heard of VCs being interested in time frames like that.”

Can we therefore expect the entrepreneurial vision to prevail?

Three years previous, on the same stage of the same symposium, Alicia Asín of Libelium addressed this exact predicament through a comedic caricature of an investor pitch: “Imagine it’s the 1800s and one is raising funding to build a railroad.”

Entrepreneur:   We’re seeking investment to connect two cities by rail.

VC:   Perhaps instead you could build a pay-per-use entertainment system for the rail passengers. We’re seeing real potential in that space.

Entrepreneur:   There are no rail passengers to entertain. That’s why we’re building the railroad.

VC:   Well, we’re not interested in investing in infrastructure so good luck to you.

The room of entrepreneurs and investors laughed. Definitely relatable to those on both sides of the table then as much as it still is today. Yet it is clearly in our collective interest to establish the infrastructure on which immense value can be created, enjoyed and monetised. So how do we get there?

How about a monetisation model so exciting as to justify the means?

Micro-transactions.   This was the title of what we’d argue was the most important slide of Maciej Kranz‘s keynote presentation, which is featured at the top of this post. And while this being an IIoT conference, he focused on the massive potential for automotive, utilities and commercial applications, it’s not difficult to extend this to The Pervasive Sharing Economy at large.

Here’s our own microtransactions slide from a recent pitch deck. Take the familiar example of walking into a brick-and-mortar retailer: you might wish to exchange information about your presence and intent for an unprecedented customer experience. The real-time data may need to travel from a mobile device over in-store infrastructure which may be owned/operated independently of the real estate before reaching first or third-parties that together deliver the personalised experience. There are countless potential data paths involving a heterogeneous mix of stakeholders (the railroad analogy applies well here too). The micro-transaction model provides a real incentive for each actor to benefit from their work in moving the data where it can create value: everyone gets a cut of the action.

While the underlying architecture may seem complicated, it nonetheless closely resembles that of the Internet. And that’s what Maciej Kranz’s (arguably) second-most important slide reminds us. By embracing open and collaborative practices, most of which are well established, this all comes together, as did the Internet.

Think of every traffic light, digital urban asset and WiFi access point as infrastructure for micro-transactions. From this perspective, Miovision, Sidewalk Labs and Cisco are each contributing to the Internet-like architecture that they champion, provided they embrace the tenets of the slide above.

How then do we hasten the smart city revolution and a ubiquitous Internet of Things?   Establish the business of micro-transactions.   Once the dollars (bitcoins?) start flowing, the underlying micro-transaction infrastructure establishes itself as a solid investment opportunity!

Beyond People-as-a-Product?

Often these days I find myself wondering if, when Sergey and Larry were pitching Google in ’98-’99, their investor deck included a prescient slide about AdWords? While PageRank is well known as their disruptive technical innovation, AdWords, which alone likely accounts for two-thirds of Google’s revenues, is the type of disruptive business innovation that is the stuff of investor dreams — provided one accepts to take a leap of faith.

While it may have been difficult to imagine two decades ago, today we accept that as users of the Internet, we ourselves are often the product being monetised.

“The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads” said Jeff Hammerbacher, Facebook’s first research scientist. It should come as no surprise that now with over two billion monthly-active “products” in stock, Facebook has established itself as the marketplace for hyper-targeted advertising. Indeed, the titans of social media and e-commerce each painstakingly maintain their own digital version of us, their users. These lucrative digital twins are the product of our online interactions, all made possible by the Internet.

But as we move beyond the Internet to the Internet of Things, things are changing. Literally. So what prescient slide would the likes of Sergey and Larry include in their ’18-’19 fundraising deck? In other words,

what becomes the novel product of the Internet of Things?

Where the Internet facilitated the understanding of people’s behaviour online, the Internet of Things adds the all-important understanding of people’s behaviour in the real-world. Does this simply mean that the “real you” will supersede your digital twin as a product? If so, who will own the “real you”? This raises plenty more questions.

Will the evolution of the People-as-a-Product paradigm remain the privy of the Big 5? Will progressive legislation such as GDPR influence the emerging product and, critically, its ownership? Will there be a revolutionary change? Imagine a modern spin on the familiar rallying cry:

Products of the world unite and seize the means of monetisation!

For a tech startup today, the trillion dollar question is what to include on that one prescient slide?   For the next generation of tech mercenaries entering the workforce, the question is what’s the equivalent of clicking on ads in the real world?   And for humanity, the question is how do we collectively envisage our own future?

Let’s not forget to focus on that last one too, at least for the sake of future generations (of products?)!

The IoT finally runs away from home

Last week, in her Stacey on IoT newsletter, the one and only tech journalist who has shared our passion and optimism for the IoT since the earliest days of the hype wave of 2012 finally changed her tune, declaring that “the state of the smart home in 2018 is pretty disappointing.”

We’re going to have to continue waiting for a home that truly reacts in an intuitive way to our needs and expectations. Before we get there, we’ll need [1] standards around presence detection, [2] a way to recognize people in the home, and [3] stored information about their preferences. And in a smart home, those preferences will be based on a computer analysis of habits, [*] not someone sitting down for an hour to program a specific set of actions.

We first met Stacey Higginbotham at SXSW in 2013 when she was writing countless articles on IoT startups for GigaOM. A few months previous to that meeting, we had already dismissed the smart home as a likely spearhead of IoT advancement, based on a decade of our own experiences. And while Stacey’s latest post is in keeping with this view, hope for the greater IoT is nonetheless far from lost when we examine — outside the context of the smart home — the three concerns she raises.

1. Standards around presence detection

The reelyActive co-founders’ experience in real-time location systems (RTLS) dates back to 2004 and we can attest that the benchmark in location has always been to “put the dot on the map”. Recognising that precision location only matters for a small subset of applications, we founded reelyActive instead on the premise of location to the nearest point of interest or zone. And, in 2014, while literally exploring the notion of Google Analytics for the Physical World we stumbled upon a standard for representing points of interest and zones: the URL.

Said differently, by modelling physical spaces as webpages, with each zone having its own unique URL, it becomes possible to represent physical presence like a click on a webpage. Today our technology is based on this paradigm. Where commercial interests have failed to produce a standard for presence detection, the Internet provides a viable option for anyone prepared to think web-first. In short, there is a standard around presence detection: just click your heels and say “there’s no place like the smart home!”

2. A way to recognise people

In September of 2013, Stacey wrote Loophole in iBeacon could let iPhones guard your likes instead of bombard you with coupons, in which reelyActive demonstrated iOS devices “advertising” the presence of their users. Indeed, for almost five years, there has been a way to recognise people via their mobile devices using Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). And last year, we took the concept even further with reelyApp making it easy to “Advertise” yourself with the Physical Web, and beyond….

However, the fact that five years on, neither iOS nor Android is keen to endorse this feature confirms the fact that we were indeed exploiting a “loophole”. But, in building barriers rather than promoting permissionless innovation, the smartphone titans have opened the door to a viable alternative… In short, there is a standardised, accessible way to recognise people.

3. Stored information about people’s preferences

Until recently, there were two options: Personal Data Lockers and Facebook. And while we detailed exactly how Facebook could share their users preferences in the real-world in real-time, the company’s recent Cambridge Analytica scandal doesn’t bode well for this happening anytime soon.

Fortunately, the Internet again provides a standard for representing oneself and one’s preferences: JSON-LD and Schema.org. The pair have been championed by Google since about 2015, and we ourselves host our own open data locker (based on our open source json-silo) and represent common connected devices in this format through our Sniffypedia project. In short, there is a standardised way to store (and retrieve) information about people and their preferences.

* Without the need for human entered data

We can’t stop referencing Kevin Ashton’s definition of the IoT as the ability for “computers to observe, identify and understand the world—without the limitations of human-entered data“. As Stacey says, “someone sitting down for an hour to program a specific set of actions” is, by definition, the antithesis to the IoT. The smart home is therefore, as predicted, an unlikely spearhead of a pervasive IoT.

But while the home remains our primary social environment (the ‘first’ place), let’s not forget the workplace (the ‘second’ place) as well as the diverse candidates serving as the ‘third’ place. Among the leading applications of our IoT platform is the workplace (think offices, healthcare facilities and even retail stores) where workers have plenty of compelling reasons to be detected, recognised and treated in according to their preferences (video). In each instance, the aforementioned standards for proximity, identification and representation are being successfully applied, and the definition of the IoT begins to ring true.

The IoT is finally running away from home to a place where it actually works today.   That’s a good thing.   In time, it’ll make its way back home, but probably not before stopping by a few ‘third’ places along the way.

RFID Journal Live 2018

Five years ago, reelyActive attended its first RFID Journal Live conference. Back then, we had pioneered simple, accessible cloud-connected active RFID. It’s easy to forget that in 2013 Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) had not yet established itself as the de facto standard for active RFID, nor had the RAIN RFID alliance been formalised.

This past week we were back in Orlando for the industry’s largest event, now as world-leaders in BYOD RTLS. And for those like us who haven’t given up on the dream of pervasive RFID, of Kevin Ashton’s Internet of Things, and of ubiquitous machine-contextual awareness, there’s plenty to be excited about in the coming years!

Wiliot: indefinitely identifiaBLE consumer goods

What if the mobile phone in your pocket — and your connected appliances at home — could automatically recognise the consumer packaged goods (CPG) you own and use?

That’s just one of many potential applications when Wiliot‘s batteryless Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) chip hits the market. By harvesting the 2.4GHz energy emitted by nearby WiFi & Bluetooth devices, and even microwave ovens, this chip will transmit periodic identification/status messages over a range of first meters, then, in a second generation, tens of meters.

Imagine the product lifecycle of, for instance, a sofa with this embedded chip. Its transit from factory to showroom is easily tracked and optimised. Not only can it be located in real-time on the showroom floor, shoppers can effortlessly retrieve information about the product on their smartphones. The connected home automatically recognises the sofa from delivery to disposal [enter your favourite smart home use cases here]. And, upon disposal, the material contents of the sofa can be automatically retrieved from the web, optimising recycling and reuse.

Never once in that process was there a battery to change/charge.

Technology such as this will be a key driver of the pervasive sharing economy (just add couch-surfing to the sofa example). And our platform is ready to recognise Wiliot’s chips and relay their messages the moment they hit the market.

EVRYTHNG: one web address standard to rule them all

What if every product existed on the web, accessible via a standard web address?

Pick up an item close to you right now and you’ll almost certainly find it has one or more identifiers (bar code, serial number, etc.). For instance, I was pleasantly surprised to find that a pair of jeans I purchased at an Orlando outlet was EPC/RFID-tagged — but its bar code number 50001231818 is meaningless to me (and even to Google)!   So, how does one connect product identifiers to the web?

We finally had the opportunity to physically meet EVRYTHNG, a startup we’ve been following online since the earliest days of the IoT hype cycle. And it was outstanding to learn that not only will their standardisation efforts with GS1 wrap up in the coming months, but OEMs can already link their products today: one code, one web address.

Ourselves having focused over the past few years on the plethora of BLE devices and their identifiers, in 2016 we created Sniffypedia which serves a similar purpose (and provides our competitive edge in BYOD). It is exciting to see how today the EVRYTHNG platform has evolved to make the digitisation of products accessible to the average business/OEM. As a result, not only will more products exist on the web, actually finding them on the web via their physical code — or in our case via radio-identifiers — will be straightforward thanks to this new translation standard.

MonsoonRF: lighting up the RAIN

What if real-time inventory were as simple as pointing a light at the shelf/rack?

A few months ago we were delighted to share Light hears ahead of its time. A few days ago we were delighted to find that commercial lighting systems are also integrating long-range passive RFID readers! Charles from MonsoonRF showed us how their track light could simply be pointed at a wall of tags to enable real-time visibility and inventory. The collected data is shared over WiFi.

How many engineers does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

The answer may very well be none, and if so, that’s a major leap forward for pervasive passive RFID infrastructure. Imagine setting up a retail store for real-time inventory simply by pointing lights wherever items are on display!

In summary

In 2018, we can expect to see prototypes of consumer packaged goods that can be identified almost anywhere and anytime, a definitive standard for translating such identifiers into web addresses, and the early adoption of lighting infrastructure to detect and locate the billions (eventually trillions) of radio-identifiable items common in our daily lives.

Back in 2013 we were convinced this would happen, although we didn’t know exactly when or how. The fact that it is happening validates the purpose of our Pareto platform: converting the radio packets from any device (BYOD) captured by any infrastructure (BYOI) into a real-time contextual event data feed which embraces the standards of the web and can be distributed to all concerned parties. In other words, to observe the real-world like the web.

There’s no shortage of grey hairs at RFID Journal Live: there are people who have invested lengthy careers in what collectively falls under the “Internet of Things”. As we said,

for those like us who haven’t given up on the dream … there’s plenty to be excited about in the coming years!

Light hears ahead of its time

Back in 2013 when the Internet of Things was peaking on the hype-cycle — and all too often described using contrived smart home examples — this was perhaps our favourite way to explain the IoT:

You find yourself having to relocate from Montréal to San Francisco, but no sweat. Computers have already identified the things in your home you’ll want to take along. Computers have located and procured replacements near your destination. And what can’t be replaced they will ship there as efficiently as possible. Finally, those items you don’t use, they’ve already posted online for sale. Relax and enjoy your journey!

Far-fetched?   Not if buildings were able to identify and locate their occupants, including the everyday items worth moving or replacing!

This week, the proverbial light bulb just went off (yes, brace for more such puns). Lunera announced the transformation of the LED light bulb.

Lunera Smart T8

Is theirs the first smart light bulb?   No.   How then is this transformative? Lunera’s light bulb is the first that’s smart enough to listen.

Today there are billions of Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) devices occupying the buildings in which we live. These include the laptop on which I’m typing, the smartphone in my pocket, the wearable on my wrist and even the chair on which I’m sitting! All you need to do is listen, which is what our platform does to identify and locate such devices: effectively BYOD RTLS.

Indeed, our own infrastructure has been listening since 2013. We’ve learned a lot since then, patiently waiting for a brilliant solution to the pervasive infrastructure challenge. What’s so exciting today about being a Lunera launch partner is the fact that lighting is the ubiquitous in-building infrastructure. At the flip of a switch, a building can begin to measure the real world like the web.

Kevin Ashton, who coined the term IoT, defined it as:

computers [understanding] the world — without the limitations of human-entered data

Are BLE and smart lighting not building toward that on an unprecedented scale? Is that not the magic behind our example of the transcontinental move? Is that itself not akin to a Pervasive Sharing Economy?   That’s what happens when light hears ahead of its time!

Creating the next computing industry

How often do you interact with computers in a day? Likely on more occasions than you can count or even recognise! Can you remember a time when you didn’t interact with computers on a daily basis?

We’ve just added to our bibliography The Dream Machine, which recounts in splendid detail the history of interactive computing. It may come as a surprise that the essence of our modern computing paradigm (graphical user interfaces, personal computing, laser printing, Ethernet, …) was in working prototype form by the mid-seventies, the fruit of 5 years of corporate-funded research at Xerox PARC preceded by 8 years of government-funded research across US institutions through ARPA’s Information Processing Techniques Office.

The first director of that office, and the central figure in the book, is J.C.R. Licklider. Two years prior to taking that office, “Lick” would publish his vision of Man-Computer Symbiosis, envisaging the tight coupling of human brains and computing machines. Given that reelyActive’s vision can be summarised as computing machines understanding the world without reliance on human brains — arguably an extension of his vision — we asked ourselves what lessons we can learn from the history of interactive computing?

Coincidentally, we’ve had the recent pleasure of interacting with two key figures from the book: Vint Cerf and Alan Kay. Cerf’s three pillars for the IoT and his three-pronged call to action, which we discussed in Vint Cerf and the Good Fight for the IoT, resonate even stronger in light of this history. And Kay so eloquently reminded us:

“the goodness of the results is most highly correlated with the goodness of the funding”

Creating a whole new industry, as Kay and his colleagues effectively achieved at PARC, was contingent on good funding served with a good dose of patience: “I’ve never heard of VCs being interested in time frames like that”.

While Kay’s concern is very much consistent with our experiences fundraising as a startup, it is not without exceptions. In our blog post Investing in a Value-First Sharing Economy we highlighted an emerging investment philosophy best described as a two-step process:

  1. create the industry, open to competition
  2. out-execute any competition by leveraging the experience/goodwill gained

Clearly Xerox failed at Step 2 (the book examines this in detail). Incredibly, they’re not even the only textbook case among corporations headquartered in Rochester, NY! Remember Kodak and digital photography? Armed with so many lessons from history, especially concerning the execution of Step 2, would we not again expect good results from good funding, regardless of the funding source?

It has been four decades since the PARC breakthrough. The iPhone has now been around for a decade, today “tightly coupling” (or not!) our primary human-computer interaction through a 5″ screen. It is difficult to argue that this is the culmination of Licklider’s vision, but rather easy to argue that we’re (over)due for the next trillion-dollar computing industry. Goodness! With history as our collective guide, all that seems to be missing is some good funding sprinkled with a pinch of patience!

Fear Not Distribution that Works

We recently attended the inaugural Digital Future of Work Summit at NYU where Michael Chui, Partner at the McKinsey Global Institute emphatically responded to a question saying:

I’m more afraid of income inequality than I am of Skynet!

Two weeks later, we attended the IEEE RFID Conference in Phoenix where Professor Katina Michael equally emphatically responded to a question saying:

I’m afraid that [Skynet] will exacerbate the problem of income inequality!

¡Hasta la vista, middle class! Will that really be the outcome of pervasive computing and the IoT? Because you can argue that we are building the equivalent of Skynet, the collective machine intelligence antagonist in the Terminator film franchise, albeit with the opposite intent — our vision is ubiquitous machine-contextual-awareness at the service of humanity.

What we see instead is the emergence of a Pervasive Sharing Economy which will empower resources, both material and human, to advertise and optimise their utility. And the pioneering spirit of the Internet and its proponents provides cause for optimism, as we argue in our post Vint Cerf and the Good Fight for the IoT.

Ultimately, however, financial interests will determine if and when this vision is realised. That is why we argue for Investing in a Value-First Sharing Economy. Investing in the paradigm of connecting rather than collecting information is perhaps all it takes to reverse our collective fear:

How will we distribute the unprecedented amount of value unlocked through massive gains in efficiency!

The IoT as your Brand Ambassador

Since the coining of the term Internet of Things in 1999 by Kevin Ashton, the IoT has been described in myriad ways. Just as was the case twenty years ago with the Internet, we have a habit of predicting the future of a technology by standing in the present looking forward. But what if we change that perspective and imagine ourselves in the future looking back at today? We did exactly that, as the following video shows.

For how many years have you been building your digital brand on the Internet? Take a moment to imagine your digital self.

In cyberspace, you’re known as your digital self, your digital brand. In “meatspace”, you’re known as your physical self, a brand that millions of years of evolution as social animals has hard-wired us humans to both advertise and recognise. We’ve adapted to live in both of these worlds. And, in our futuristic hindsight, the Internet of Things is arguably the Internet’s adaptation to join us in the “meatspace” world.

Last month we showed how The Physical Web just got Personal, how you can today advertise your digital self on the same scale as your physical self, whenever and wherever you choose. You already have in your hand (or on your wrist) the technology to advertise your digital brand. So when and how will the IoT emerge as your brand ambassador, calmly delivering the right information at the right place at the right time?

Fortunately, we’re not alone in asking that question. In The Bank of Personal Data we discussed how Dr. Roberto Minerva, like us, argues for a broker model. And when you consider how much of your digital brand is locked up in the siloed “vaults” of social media platforms such as Facebook and LinkedIn, e-commerce platforms from Amazon to niche brands, VC-backed grow-your-user-base-then-monetise apps, digital health platforms such as Fitbit and, of course, the almighty Google, expect an epic battle between these and emerging players to establish the dominant currency and exchange for this information, your information, in the real world in real time.

We conclude our video arguing that the (post-battle) IoT will make you a superhuman in the real world. It’s not the first time we’ve used that word, case in point our 2013 post IxD, the Superhuman and the Superorganism. Only recently, however, has the “how” come into focus, and we now see “what”, from a human perspective, the IoT may very well prove to be: a personal brand ambassador for each and every one of us.