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TechnoVision 2014 - Let's Get Physical

Category : Innovation
Invisible Infostructure #4 – Let’s Get Physical

While we usually associate technology with a virtual world, now the physical, ‘real’ world quickly becomes part of it as well. With more and more tangible objects able to sense and store data and get connected to the network, the boundaries between both worlds are blurring. The Internet of Things provides unlimited opportunities for organizations to become ‘smarter’ and intimately linked to their clients and partners. And the trend becomes full circle with the quick rise of 3D printing, enabling even individuals to materialize concepts and ideas in a way that was unthinkable before: the virtual world becomes real.

Although we have been hearing about the so-called Internet of Things (IoT) for over 10 years, we now see this technology quickly gaining mainstream adoption. In fact, the Internet Of Things, or as we prefer to call it, just ‘Things,’ is the fifth technology element that makes a new form of empathic computing possible. Combined with Social software, Mobile apps, advanced Analytics and Cloud services, the Internet of Things (from SMAC to SMACT, if you like) creates a kind of ambient intelligence that is quietly serving any information need whenever required.

By constantly monitoring our behavior, the system establishes a deep understanding about our intent, the task we are trying to perform. Wearable technology in all kinds of form factors on, in (intelligent tattoos) or even under our skins (swallowables), and gives new meaning to the phrase ‘always on.’ Cognitive systems step-by-step build a better understanding of our context and are able to predict and anticipate our needs. We will learn to trust these intelligent assistants and award them more and more agency to take over mundane tasks on our behalf, so we can focus on more important things in life.

An interesting early example is GlowCap. David Rose’s start-up company Vitality realized a couple of years ago that by adding a sensor and communication to a simple jar of pills a big problem in healthcare, poor adherence to prescribed medication schedules, could be solved. The GlowCap bottle actually registers when it is opened and compares this event to the prescribed schedule. If people forget to take their medication, they are subtly notified by a flashing light. If they still do not react, additional notifications or even a message to a healthcare provider or anyone in the ‘social’ network can be sent.

Our world is quickly becoming more instrumented and interconnected (even in the air, for that matter). Because of the continuance of Moore’s law, we are reaching a price point where any physical object becomes enhanced with processing and communication power (and –  by the way – virtual concepts can become very physical through advances in 3D printing). The ubiquity of these billions of ‘enchanted’ objects will blur the boundary between our physical world and virtual cyberspace. It is only a matter of time before all these objects become interconnected and start collaborating on our behalf. This is when they truly become useful, accomplishing more complex tasks.

However, this requires solving three important issues.

The first issue is the way we interact with these ‘empathic computers.’ Clearly, continuing on the road that we are on right now, with any app on our smartphone constantly asking for attention through alarms and notifications, will quickly drive us crazy. We need a new approach of ‘calm’ technology where only the most important notifications subtly enter our consciousness, preventing what is now becoming known as partial attention disorder. ‘Better then Apps’ is the phrase where app intelligence moves from our smartphone into all kinds of physical objects. Why do we have a weather app on our phone? Our umbrella should be enchanted with technology that notifies us of rain in the forecast by a blue flashing light built into the handle.

The second issue is that in reality there is not yet one Internet of Things; there are many Internets of Things. In present day practice the intelligent Things are usually not aware of each other, let alone able to communicate and coordinate with each other. Since many of the providers of the Things see competitive benefits at stake, they choose a closed system design, ignoring the opportunities for connecting products through open APIs (which makes Intel's acquisition of Mashery all the more understandable). Forrester’s leading analyst in this domain, Sarah Rotman Epps, uses the examples of Nike’s intelligent sport shoes, Jawbone’s Up wristband and 94Fifty’s intelligent basketball and underlines the fact that they are not even aware that they are part of the same game, let alone able to exchange information.

The third issue is that we need to start designing great customer experiences from an end-to-end perspective and then be prepared to adjust our operational processes accordingly. Putting the empowered consumer front and center was already important in creating mobile apps that are broadly used and in effectively connecting with customers through social media. ‘Things’ will only further underline this necessity. It is no longer enough to enhance the digital capabilities of the enterprise. The organizational capabilities, often determined by operational processes, have to become completely aligned to the great experience the consumer expects.

Find out much more about Things at the Sogeti VINT website.

This contribution by Michiel Boreel 

Part of Capgemini's TechnoVision 2014 update series. See the overview here.

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Ron Tolido

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