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The Real Future: The Age of Networked Machines

by Boonsri Dickinson for Medium

The world is becoming more programmable. Marc Andreessen famously pointed out this trend in an essay: Why Software is Eating the World. That trend is ever more pertinent as machines and sensors begin communicating with each other, generating enormous amounts of data for machines and humans to consume. As more devices are embedded with sensors, the technology will become more human-like in the sense that they too can see, hear, and record what is going on in the real-world.

Once machines start making their own decisions on what information to trade, I wonder what the future looks like in terms of computing and how much of this will happen over the cloud? How will new forms of visual communication change the nature of the Internet itself? Humans will continue to input data such as Facebook photos, however leave it to algorithms to create a video story for them (today’s version of these videos boarders on cheesy but hopefully overtime, the algorithm will improve). However, Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus Rift signals a transition to another way of communicating, in the realm of optical computing.

What will motivate machines to collaborate with each other or exchange information, without it being a financial burden on the human owner of the device. Ideally, the machines would be able to make money so that they can use the digital currency to trade data and other valuable goods with each other.

The Cinema Revolution: The Person Movie Theater

My heart began to race.

A guy from WorldViz was holding the power cord that was connected to the device strapped onto my head. He told me to walk across the plank.

Um, no big deal, right?

Of course, I hesitated to step forward.

After pausing for a moment, I walked across the plank and the floor came out from under me.

Then the roof began to come down.

Get me out of here, I thought. It wasn’t until I bumped into a real-life human being standing at the same demo station as me at the Intel Capital Global Summit, did I snap out of it.

I took off the Oculus Rift headset and caught my breath.

In the future, wearable head devices will enable a more immersive, experienced-based exploration of digital worlds. A number of startups on display at the conference tackled this problem head on.

Avegant created a device to display mobile video. The prototype sitting on the table looked simple: It looked like headphones with a viewer.

A Kickstarter campaign jump started their product development but now they are a VC-funded company-based out of Redwood City.

Allan Evans, one of the co-founders of Avegant said “every digital engagement we have right now is a screen. The digital viewfinder on the camera is a screen. Your phone is a screen. It’s going to be a screen. When you have a wearable or head-mounted display, there’s some interesting things that you can do with that kind of display that you can’t do with a tablet.”

Things like look around and forget that you aren’t actually there. Not only will video perspective expand to include 360 degrees, it will be how much color you perceive.

The enhanced color palette extends the emotional effect colors can have on the consumer. One way to extend this palette is to introduce light-emitting nano crystals called quantum dots into displays. The market is $25 million, but is expected to be $100 billion by 2020 for lighting and displays. If there’s wide-spread adoption by TV makers, it could contribute to the growing market for quantum dots.

Nanosys Inc. is making quantum dot technology that may at first sound like a science project, but their headquarters in Milpitas, CA is outfitted with a manufacturing facility (which I wasn’t allowed into with my camera) and a demo lab that shows off the screen that is behind the improvement in color in the displays in the room.

Jeff Yurek, communications manager at Nanosys, said “with quantum dots we can make displays that are more power efficient, which means you have have a smaller battery. The displays are easier to read outside. Another property of quantum dots is that they emit really pure colors.”

Just by looking at the screens, it is clear that more color is being emitted than the standard TV screen (which the placed right next to it for comparison).

Internet of Things

With wearable devices, our movements are easily tracked and our environment is monitored — the devices are becoming more like us, and they don’t even require 8 hours of sleep. That’s a lot of new machines and sensors that will be talking to each other. On the consumer side, people are wearing FitBits, installing Nest in their homes, and wearing other devices that generate data each day. From cars to our home appliances to our cities, every device we use will become smarter, making our world more connected than ever before.

At the Intel Capital Global Summit, 16 investments were announced, totaling $62 million. It’s hard to tell at first glance what the investment strategy is, since there’s a diverse range of companies.

However, if you think about the entire Intel ecosystem, they have been open about investing in the Internet of Things and anything that their chips can power or their servers can store. Thinking post PC-world, they have become much more welcoming to getting their chips inside a number of devices.

With all the investments Intel has made in the Internet of Things space, it’s easy to see how the devices such as drones that collect data will soon generate data that is for machines to consume, rather than humans.

“Intel Capital invests in the technology continuum that runs from wearables and the Internet of Things to big data analytics – and everything in between, including silicon, smart devices, PCs, the cloud and data centers,” Arvind Sodhani, president of Intel Capital and Intel executive vice president said in a statement.

Intel’s State & Local Government Affairs director Jonathan Williams is focused on the policy implications of big data and described to me how state level regulations can influence the market. “States aren’t waiting for DC. California is the 8th largest market in the world. California can move the market. [For example], energy efficiency around appliances. When California decided they were going to regulate the energy efficiency in TVs, it had power to dictate energy standards for the country.”

A New Business Model? Sensing-as-a-Service

Perhaps Bitcoin could be the answer to unlocking the business model of the $7.1 trillion dollar Internet of Things market by 2020. Using bitcoin could create Sensing-as-a-Service for a possible Internet of Things business model. In a paper published by two researchers in Switzerland called When Your Sensor Earns Money, Changing Data for Cash with Bitcoin, the scenario for sensors to interact with the bitcoin block chain to create a world-wide data market.

The idea of Sensing-as-Service may bridge the physical world with the digital. The authors of the paper called “When Money Learns to Fly: Towards Sensing as a Service Applications Using Bitcoin” concluded that:

“The IOT is expected to consist of billions of sensor nodes bridging the gap between the physical and digital world… As the eco-system around Bitcoin is growing and its technology and conceptual idea has already been transferred successfully to other domains and purposes, it is our belief that it could also drive the development of Sensing-as-a-Service business models.”

Very interesting point. If Software-as-a-Service caught on, I don’t see why Sensing-as-a-Service wouldn’t.

Drones as a Data Platform

While the impressive-looking UAV may momentarily distract, PrecisionHawk says it is part of a bigger big data mission. Dr. Ernest Earon, co-founder of PrecisionHawk, kept emphasizing that fact: The plane is the start of the information pipeline. Specifically, their product is information and the unmanned aircraft is a data collection platform. Farmers fly the PrecisionHawk’s lightweight UAV over their farms, which enables them to collect data they wouldn’t of had previously.

“What you are really trying to do is allow people to make decisions based on the information they collect. The plane is a convenient means to an end,” said Earon. Agriculture is a sophisticated business, and famers look for what is the health of the crop. Farmers traditionally survey their crops by walking their land.

“It’s all about information. Some of the benefits of a platform like this is to react to problems quickly. Going to the doctor when you have a cough, rather than waiting until you have full-blown pneumonia. The difference in a crop… some fungus is growing through a tomato crop, the difference between reacting in six hours versus in 24 hours is a very expensive difference,” said Earon.

The Industrial Internet

In the future, machines will communicate with each other to exchange data or power, without ever going through a human. The Bitcoin protocol is important for the distributed network for machine-to-machine communication.

When it comes to distinguishing two types of Internet, one is human-readable. Google solves the search problem by indexing webpages. Many of the data that is generated in this human-readable format is to help with business intelligence, customer acquisition, and marketing. However, there’s another type of Internet that will be important, namely the Industrial Internet, in which machines generate data for other machines to read and digest.

Barbur Ozden, the founder of Maana said “my intention is to make data scientists far more productive.” Maana provides a search for data coming out of machines, devices, equipment, and tools.

Ozden said “if the [web] wasn’t searchable, the use of the Internet wouldn’t have been adopted this fast and permeated in our lives. Machines are producing a million more times data. In the future, there will be a million times more machines. The Industrial Internet is expected to connect trillions of devices. Unlike us, devices don’t go to sleep — and therefore, constantly generate data.”

“Think of the first Internet for human beings. Think of the second internet for human civilization, machines, and infrastructure. For example, drones can learn from their own history and learn from other drones and decide to collectively work together,” Ozden said.

Bridging the Real-World With the Digital World

From technology that literally allows us to see more colors to virtual reality that permits a time travel into different worlds and different perspective, the digital world and physical world are beginning to blend together. With the Internet of Things and the proliferation of sensors in assets as diverse as nuclear power plants to drones, the accumulation of machine-generated data will begin to provide more information about the world in which we live in.

Just make sure to pull me away from my virtual reality headset if someone is standing in my way. There’s no way I’m falling for that again (I hope).