Do we live in a dystopian world where today’s problems have only gotten worse, technology has gone bad, and the very survival of humanity is at risk? Or in a world where our greatest problems can be solved by collaboration between human enlightenment and advanced technology? Within 10 years, there will be 50 billion connected things in the world, with trillions of connections among them. These connections will change the world for the better in ways we can’t even imagine today.
What will the future be like? As depicted in today’s popular movies and books, the future is either one of bright promise — where the world’s greatest problems have been solved by technology and greater human enlightenment — or it’s a dystopian world where today’s problems have only gotten worse, technology has gone bad, and the very survival of humanity is at risk.
As Cisco’s chief futurist, it’s my job to think about what the world will look like in a few years, and how our actions today will impact that future. And while I’m not ready to put on my rose-colored glasses just yet, I do have an optimistic view of what the future may bring, enabled by the Internet of Everything. Within 10 years, there will be 50 billion connected things in the world, with trillions of connections among them. These connections will change the world for the better in ways we can’t even imagine today. But here are just a few things I can imagine:
Better supply of food: Sensors all along the food supply chain, together with Big Data analytics and the intelligence of the cloud, will help us optimize the delivery of food from “farm to fork.” Sensors in the field will be combined with weather forecasts and other data to trigger irrigation and harvest times for each crop. And sensors on the food itself will alert merchants and consumers about when the “sell by” and “use by” dates are approaching to prevent spoilage. All of this will significantly reduce food waste — which today amounts to about one-third of total world food production.
Better supply of water: Similarly, about 30 percent of our water supply is lost due to leaks and waste. Just one faucet or leaky pipe dripping three times a minute will waste more than 100 gallons of water a year. “Smart” pipes can reduce this waste significantly by sensing and pinpointing the location of leaks that would otherwise go undetected for months or years.
Better access to education: Affordable access to education is one of the most important ways to lift people out of poverty. Soon, time and distance will no longer limit access to an engaging, affordable, high-quality education. With connection speeds going up, and equipment costs going down, distance learning is going beyond traditional online classes to create widely accessible immersive, interactive, real-time learning experiences.
Better access to health care: Urbanization and population growth are putting a strain on health care resources — especially in rural areas. After the devastating 2008 earthquake in Sichuan Province, China, Cisco was a strategic partner in creating a networked medical delivery system, including four telehealth networks that allow doctors to meet with and examine patients remotely. But those capabilities are just the beginning of what IoE will make possible. Soon, women with high-risk pregnancies will be able to wear a tiny, always-on fetal monitoring electronic “tattoo,” which will communicate to the cloud whenever the woman is within range of a wireless network. The analytics capabilities in the cloud will alert doctors at the first sign of trouble, and even tell the mother-to-be when she needs to drink more water, or get more rest.
While sensors and machine-to-machine communication are important parts of these solutions, it’s not just the “Internet of Things” that is making all of this possible — it’s the Internet of Everything — the networked connection of people, process, data, and things. And Big Data analytics is what brings the intelligence to all of these connections, enabling new kinds of processes, and helping us make smarter decisions.
I’ve highlighted just four areas where IoE will change the world for the better. But there is not a single part of life that will not be impacted in some way — whether that means improving your drive to work, speeding you through the checkout line at the grocery store, saving energy through smart lighting, or minimizing your wait at a traffic light. The Internet of Everything is not a silver bullet that can solve all the world’s woes, but with the spark of human innovation, IoE can be the engine for a better future.
This article is part of a series of op-eds from key speakers and delegates participating in this year’s Social Innovation Summit, which took place on Nov. 19-20 at Stanford Business School. View the full series here.