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Clones, Drones & Phones: The Internet of Things

The biggest battle of 1980 was perhaps the consumer decision of whether to buy VHS or Betamax. It was akin to the smartphone battle of i-Phone versus Android today. However, that was perhaps the first time American consumers needed to actually understand what they were buying based on the inherent technical quality — versus cost — versus longevity of a standard. The consequence of your decision was not life changing – but nonetheless seemed daunting at the time.

My interest in the world of film, video and technology was largely driven by the advent of consumer electronics such as VHS and Betamax. I could see that the adoption of any video standard meant more consumers and businesses would value the medium of video. Moreover, there would be a greater need for creative content.

In the summer of 1980, shortly following the birth of our first daughter, I left my job as a high school art teacher and baseball coach to start a small production company with three of my college buddies. My interest was not consumer video – but rather to write the next great film – or to be the head comedy-writer for David Letterman. After a myriad of rejection letters from the nation’s largest media companies – some stopping just short of “cease and desist” — I lowered my expectations and started to write and produce programs locally. Never before did I have so much creative energy – or less money.

After a year of long hours with too few projects, it was time that I give up my dream and find a regular job to pay the mortgage and provide for our young growing family. NCR Corporation in Dayton, Ohio offered me a position as a Writer-Director in their Computer Science Division. It provided that rare opportunity to stay within my field of production – but focus on leveraging the technology for marketing and training NCR staff and its customer.

At the ripe old age of 26, I loathed the concept of business. In fact, I didn’t own a suit or tie. I had a shaggy beard and somewhat long-hair – resembling more Jeramiah Johnson than Jack Welch. I looked out-of-place in the starched-white shirt and dark suit world of a Fortune 500 company. But much like water eroding the walls of a canyon, I slowly adapted to the world of corporate America in exchange for all the security and financial benefits that came with the job.

Although there was the culture shock of being a “right-brain-guy” in a crowd of “left-brain-executives” I found the transition rather easy compared to learning the language of both business and computer technology.

I recall one of the first shows I directed was created to look much like a TV talk show. The program provided an overview of the upcoming year’s financial forecast for Wall Street Analysts. We had a large TV studio equipped with everything you’d find at a television station in the 1980s. I was in the control room directing our cameramen through headsets. I had a microphone that allowed me to also communicate with the host and our Chief Financial Officer that was being interviewed.

The host was Carl Day, a local, seasoned TV newscaster that we often hired for such shows. With his first question, he asked our grey-haired and tan CFO about the upcoming 1982 financials. Our CFO, smiled and said, “Carl, we look forward to growing our business by at least 7% this year.”

“Growing our business? What kind of ridiculous language is this guy speaking?” I thought. “You grow plants, but you don’t grow business”

I told the crew to cut and then suggested to the CFO that the word “grow” did not seem like an appropriate financial description. He paused and then looked at me through the large control room window and said, “Son, people in the financial world know exactly what I mean… we’ll be fine.” With his gentle correction I realized that there was perhaps an entire vocabulary I’d need to learn if I had any hope of making it in this bottom-line world.

That’s the way it is in all fields of endeavor—each having their own vernacular. In manufacturing in the 1990’s it was all about Just-in-time-manufacturing. In the merger-mania of that same decade you’d hear analysts mention, “The synergies of such a merger.”

Today it’s hard to go a day in an American office building without hearing these words or phrases:
• Brand
• Proactive
• Leverage
• Think out of the box
• The big idea
• Unique
• At the end of the day
• Diverse
• Culture of change
• 7×24
• Green

Somewhere, in a large, carpeted, open-area conference room an executive is proselytizing to an eager-to-please, doe-eyed staff. “Our brand needs improving. Let’s be proactive and leverage our talents. Think out of the box and develop the big idea of making our brand unique. At the end of the day, we need a diverse, culture of change to be a success. Let’s make sure the ideas work 7×24 and are green.”

In 1981 I quickly came to realize that to be a success in any business, you must understand business vocabulary. However, the same is true in our society. More than ever, our society is reliant on technology and its associated vocabulary. Yet few of us understand the evolution of that technology and its impact on our current and future life.

If you’ve been paying attention over the last year you might have heard the term, Internet of Things. Wow! What a childish, incoherent phrase. Could it be less eloquent? Perhaps. But you better have an understanding of its consequences because we’ll all be living with it soon enough.

The author of that term is said to be Kevin Ashton a technology pioneer who cofounded the Auto-ID Center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Kevin and his team created a global standard system for RFID and other sensors.[1] He coined the term, Internet of Things” in 1999 to simply describe a system where the Internet is connected to the physical world via ubiquitous sensors.

That’s a long way of saying, in the near future everything will be inter-connected — providing a seamless and almost infinite array of advantages to mankind.

You see it today in wearable fitness devices that connect to your tablet or phone. You might also be currently using a Nest-type device to control your thermostat. But imagine controlling your Roomba vacuum, refrigerator, doors, clocks, TV, stereo, lights, furnace, vents, dishwasher, stove, crockpot, toaster, garage door, watering systems, showers and many other household items by simply using your smartphone. Moreover, you may do this from anywhere in the world at any time. That my friend is the Internet of Things, or IoT.

Do I Really Need My Toaster On The Internet?

Well, to each their own. But in a world where we are constantly multi-tasking, it might be nice perhaps to simply instruct your toaster to drop two slices of whole grain bread, at 5:30am. In fact, developers are using Siri-like clones to make such verbal instruction possible. Speaktoit Inc. launched Api.ai , a natural language understanding platform that allows developers to add Siri clones to applications and devices. Rather than swipe your screen to give a command, simply state what you want. You wish is your toaster’s command.

Don’t Look Now But…

Unless you’ve not watched the news in the past 10 years you should be aware of these devices known as drones; unmanned aircraft systems that are seemingly invisible to the public, but can see and gather information not previously available. Drones are finding their way into the Internet of Things by sensing highway traffic, weather conditions and possibly the heat escaping from your roof due to the pot plants you’re growing in your basement. What makes this possible? Sensors; the Internet connection and a back-end data collection infrastructure.

The world is changing. In the next five years, I suggest the Internet of Things will roll off of your tongue and consciousness much like the words web and smartphone do today.

What does that mean for you and your family?

It means the ability to track just about everything and everyone… including when you’re about to run out of coffee; who is in your home; whether grandma remembered to take her pills today, and much, much more.

Do we need to have everything online; all day and every day?

Do we need to know how many steps we climbed?

Did you consume too much sugar compared to your protein intake?

Should we analyze everything that we do and say?

I’m not sure. However, the big question of the 1980’s, “Should you buy VHS or Betamax?” seems much less daunting.

Life was much easier “back in the day.” For the record, the correct answer was of course Betamax — but VHS ultimately won the battle. Better marketing… not a better product.

Below are some articles and papers that you might find helpful to better understand the consequences of the Internet of Things. Coming to a home near you.

Goldman Sachs: Our Thinking on The Internet of Things

What You Missed In The SmartWorld: Why Drones Are The Future of IoT

Drones and The Internet of Things

Huffington Post: Three Ways the IoT will Change Your Life

Sensors & Your Life

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