In the world of technology, software and devices, we are standing at a precipice. Like any precipice, the view is awe-inspiring, inviting and full of potential. It seems a waste of time to just stand and think while every ounce of thinking pushes the mind to take a leap. But then again, like any leap out of any precipice, it can either fill our wings and back with fresh, powerful winds or gravity could take us down to hurt and pain that the mind shudders to fathom. Before we leap, let us take a step back.
The age of connected devices is not coming, it has already arrived. It is not a vision into the near future, it is today’s reality. The shock waves of this transformation have already come and settled in and we now have to be ready to become the prepared, informed end-users of this new reality. It is time to ask the critical questions and know when to get back onto the precipice and thrust forward for the leap.
Such momentous transformations have a similar metamorphosis. First, the breadth of technology is explored. Next, the depth of the expanse is tested and finally, the firewalls are erected. That is an exhilarating ride…if you are in the middle of that exploration. For an end-user who sits on top for this ride, it could be a roller coaster, the kind that could malfunction and hurt the rider. It behooves the implementers to make this transformation not from the breadth to depth to firewalls but to go with the firewalls as the breadth is explored and make the depths exhilarating, not painful. The Internet of Things is going to be a quantum leap of proportions that we have not experienced before because of five aspects.
DESIGN: First among them is Design. No matter where we come from, it is impossible to not acknowledge that Apple has transformed our Design thinking approach. Success in this realm comes only if we take painstaking efforts in designing a pleasing solution set. Like it or not, the end-users are not going to wear, carry or use devices if it does not make them look trendy and feel savvy. For the first time, it is not just the hardware or just the software but the appearance of the hardware and the efficiency of the software that becomes the first yardstick that will be used by end-users to measure this transformation.
INFORMATION: I hate the term Big Data. It gives the impression that there is a big world of data that the end-users can wade into and find what they want and need. We cannot thrust end-users into a sea of data. We have to usher them into a world of information and that is the only measure of success in this aspect. End-users are quickly moving away from searching for information into asking for information. It is not the same verb and it is critical that any design makes the full effort into trying to understand the needs of the end-user…and provide targeted information, not a sea of data.
CONTEXT, NOT JUST CONTENT: We are past the Search engine era where just content ruled the realm. It is not enough to provide a sea of content, even if it is information pertinent to the user. This has been the weakest link in the age of computing. We have never pursued understanding context with the same vigor as we have raced to catalog the world into a sea of data. The result of this pursuit has put us in front of the mountain called Big Data without the tools of human context. We have techniques to scale this mountain but not the right tools to make our step stick into the ground. The human mind, which understands context better than any other living being in this world, maybe this universe, has not found a way to make software understand it.
FORGET REACTION, WE NEED TO PREDICT: Anyone can react to a need. We reacted to the need to feed by hunting and cultivating and thus gave rise to civilizations. Civilizations gave rise to countries. Countries formalized trade and sustenance. We know the trait of reaction so well that it has become a reflex action. We know to predict what we ourselves need and that has helped us minimize the sudden impact of reaction. We know to look for what we want before we need it. That has been the bedrock of technology. What we need to now do is to algorithmically predict what the end-users wants beyond their needs. And prediction becomes reality when we understand the context. Context is clearly understood when we provide information and not data. Information is given to us only when we please the end-user with the best design.
SO, IS IT SECURE? This question almost always hits us sooner than we can imagine. Technologists always think that there is time to react to this question and almost always, we find out through painful breaches like the Target breach or the currently unfolding Anthem breach that we don’t have the luxury of time to react. The Christmas Day attack on Sony PlayStation and Xbox One shows that even if we have the luxury of time, the impact which is the product of damage and the impending risk, is painful and severe. Scrambling for a response at that time is not the best option – just ask my angry son when he could not play his new game on the Xbox. Security cannot be an after-thought, not when we are looking at an expanse as wide as everything on us and around us communicating with each other for us and scarily, trying to find out what we are going to comprehend next. That is the reality of a secure world of the Internet of Devices.
ABOVE IT ALL IS RESPECT FOR PRIVACY: Google Glass was a response to scientific fantasy. A glass that tells us everything about everything in front of us is something dreamt out of Star Trek. Suddenly it is reality. It supposedly has all the ingredients of success. WRONG. Google Glass has a fatal flaw – enough to singularly destroy it. It’s failure to respect privacy. It is a costly lesson, not just for Google but for the entire industry. We are humans of a society, but we treasure and guard our own privacy much beyond the coolest implementation of the coolest fantasy. Any implementation of Internet or Internet of Things has to respect that fire-line of privacy and integrate the acknowledgement and willingness of the end-user to share information. That acknowledgement trumps design. It supersedes the urgency of transforming data into information. It is the core of context. It is the first lesson of predictive and proactive analysis. It is this fire-line that will separate the successful ones from the failed efforts.
A mere year ago, we would not have predicted that the Windows operating system would be given away for free. Yet, that is what Windows 10 is all about. We would not have predicted the end of Google Glass. Yet, that is the shocking realization of the day. We would not have predicted that, for the first time, we will look at wearables with nervous excitement – not just the childlike emotion of excitement but the adult, human emotion of tepidity, of nervousness at what awaits us when we take that next step. It is a new frontier for technology and it is like nothing we have faced before – because it is not just about the most superior algorithm or the best data structure or even the foremost of design thinking…but it is all that and the powerful undercurrent called human emotion and thinking.
As human beings, we are in the constant pursuit of a better tomorrow. America taught the world that the pursuit of happiness is the cornerstone of successful enterprise. The emotional, technical and design struggle to understand and respect privacy is not going to be won in a few iterations of the Internet of Things or the world of connected devices. It is a continuing transition and as inquisitive minds, we are going to constantly touch, feel the heat, retract, recoup and redesign to the changing world. That difficult trek should not and will not detract us. But like any responsible trekker, we should research, understand and plan this awesome climb. And when we are doing climbing it, we will, again, find ourselves at the precipice of this awesome view. And if we would have done our homework, if we would have packed the right gear, if we are truly ready, then, we should step up to the precipice and take the leap into the amazing world of information, of devices, of human imagination.