There’s the popular wisdom going around that you only really learn when you do something. It’s in the process of making, creating that you really interrogate the subject matter and might glimpse additional insight.
It was in that vein that in preparing my talk for the NEXT conference back in May I discovered what really gets me so excited about the Internet of Things.
A lot of my thinking lately has been around the forces which fuel the trajectory of the Internet of Things. We see an enormous uptake in digitally connected objects, and in trying to grasp why, three laws crystalized for me which make a broader Internet of Things almost an inevitability. Those forces can be summed up by three laws:
Moore’s law should be a commonplace for anybody following the technology sector. Described by Alan Moore in 1965, it essentially posits that the number of components on an integrated circuit (chip) doubles every year. And this law has proven to be remarkably stable since its inception. Prices per unit of computation have come down remarkably, as ever more computation can be put into the same package, and more importantly, for the same price. This means we can have chips incredibly cheaply now.
A corollary of Moore’s law is Koomey’s law, which posits the energy efficiency of computation double’s roughly every one and a half years. That means, in essence, that the energy necessary for the same amount of computation halves in that time span. To visualize the exponential impact this has: A fully charged Macbook Air, when applying the energy efficiency of computation of 1992, just two decades ago, would completely drain its battery in a mere 1.5 seconds.
What Koomey’s law in essence means is that going forward, the energy requirements for computation in embedded devices is shrinking, to the point that harvesting the required energy from ambient sources should suffice to power the computation necessary in many applications.
Metcalfe’s law has nothing to do with chips, rather than with connectivity. Formulated by Robert Metcalfe while inventing Ethernet, the law essentially states that the value of a network increases exponentially to the number of its nodes. This is the foundational law on which many of the social networking platforms are based: the value of an additional user does not increase the value on a linear scale, but rather increases the number of connections, and thus the value, for all users.
But what does that mean with regard to the Internet of Things? Moore’s and Koomey’s laws make embedding chips into almost everything both economically viable and technically feasible. The chips get smaller and cheaper, and their energy footprint decreases dramatically. But it’s Metcalfe’s law that implies a strong incentive to actually pull that off, because the more nodes we connect to the network, the more valuable the network becomes, and the more value we can derive from the network.
How that value is expressed depends on the form of the individual nodes, and how users can access those. But from a systemic perspective, following these three laws it seems most unlikely that we’re not going to integrate bigger and bigger chunks of our everyday into the network.