I recently had the opportunity to speak about our connected world and the Internet of Things at Ada’s Technical Books in Seattle. Ada’s has just moved into a terrific new location on Capitol Hill and I got to be their inaugural speaker. I want to thank Danielle, Alex and all the wonderful people at the store, as well as everyone who came out to listen, for making it a great success.
“Connecting with Our Connected World” is my latest article and explores the coming era of the Internet of Things. It’s also the lead article for The Futurist magazine – my third cover story for them, which obviously I’m pleased about. While much has been written about IoT – or the Internet of Things – in recent years, this article takes a somewhat different tack.
We’re creating a world in which evermore aspects of our natural and man-made environments are becoming interconnected, capable of communicating with human operators as well as with each other. This will allow objects to keep us appraised of everything from their precise location to handling their own restocking and servicing and so much more.
However, there is a darker side to all this. For instance, issues of personal privacy and self-determism, not to mention some less well-behaved aspects of the technology:
“Once a system reaches a particular threshold of complexity, we can no longer be certain about specific cause-and-effect relationships; rather, we must think in terms of probabilities. Instead of being 100% certain that A will lead to B, we might assign a likelihood of, say, 99.98%.
For some events, this probabilistic approach works fine, but for others it could be disastrous: Power plants, automated weapons systems, and freeways full of self-driving cars all could experience catastrophes if operating on erroneous information. So these and other systems will need to be designed with greater safeguards and redundancies than they have today.”
My point is we’re at a stage in our relationship with our technology when we’ll need to start thinking in more and more nondeterministic ways. But in many respects, isn’t this how a great deal of our world has always been? So fortunately, we have lots of practice.
Change frightens us. The uncertainty of the new, the potential for disruption, it’s one of the reasons that our species seeks to anticipate the future – so we can avoid and hopefully survive the worst it has to throw at us.
Self-replicated RepRap parts
But change also has a huge potential to improve our lives and empower us. The recent accomplishments of the RepRap project are a case in point. Headed by Dr. Adrian Bowyer of the University of Bath’s Center for Biomimetics, RepRap is short for replicating rapid prototyping machine. In use by industry for about a quarter century now, prototypers are essentially 3D inkjet printers capable of creating parts by laying down thin layers of resin following a computer-driven design. Almost any basic object can be created using this technique, from dinnerware to engine parts. What makes RepRap different is that it’s the first prototyper capable of copying itself. And it’s open source.
While there are still a handful of its own parts that RepRap can’t copy and all of it still has to be hand assembled, the potential for a self-replicating replicator is enormous. Distributed to people in the developing world, such a technology could quickly raise their standard of living, providing necessities many of the rest of us have long taken for granted. Of course, such a technology would be tremendously disruptive to industry, but that can hardly be justification for billions to continue living and dying in unnecessary poverty.
Like RepRap, many other new and developing technologies have the potential to heal, to enable, to lift up vast numbers of people. DEKA’s water purification system, the Kurzweil-National Federation of the Blind Reader, solar energy solutions and worldwide immunization programs are but a few of the recent implementations of technology that have the ability to change the lives of millions for the better.
A changing world can be a frightening place, but it can be a very hopeful place as well.