We stand at the precipice of near-perfect knowledge and ubiquitous communication: translation, devices and people, connected at all times and communicating seamlessly. Every device can communicate with every device—more data and discussion were generated this year than in all of history combined. Each device has perfect knowledge between them with infinite bandwidth, storage and compute available on demand.
The fiction of the Matrix is a near reality—ones and zeroes flowing around us, a mesh fabric of reality.
We are reaching towering heights, but we risk building a tower to the sky with no purpose. Employing technology to see what we are capable of is not an end—we must solve problems and advance our knowledge and ability to give people better lives around the world. We are at a crossroads.
The IoT and the ‘Tower of Babel’
In many ways, the IoT revolution parallels the story of the ‘Tower of Babel’. The ‘Tower of Babel’ wasn’t built as a fortification, housing or even to provide an awe-inspiring view of Earth. It was built to see how high we could reach—to challenge the gods and creation.
Corporations see the IoT as an opportunity to deliver greater efficiency or new subscription business models like Zuora. A lot of our effort is on building intelligent devices to perform jobs that people currently do with the intention of replacing them.
Let’s run this scenario to its logical extreme. If we proceed along this course, it will soon be in a company’s best interest to replace most or all of its workers. And this will be the rational choice for most every company to maintain relative cost advantage. The result is that there will be very few workers. Put another way, there will be very few people with the money to afford the services that these fully automated companies offer. And the system will collapse under itself—the tower could fall.
The neophyte view is to try to stop short of automating everything that could be. But in an arms race to use technology to derive competitive advantage, no logical actor is going to pull up short: It’s a prisoner’s dilemma.
Create. Automate. Create time, resource and capability to Innovate. Then Invent. Scale. This is where our true value lies. A new class of innovators is looking to unlock the true value of humans—innovation, creativity and inspiration. Do we really want to preserve jobs in factories, which are, frankly, a waste of our collective human potential, or would it be better to allow everyone to tap into the power of innovation: to create a global innovators club fueled by technology as the new palette of paint—a new renaissance?
The transparency of technology
Once people have reliable access to air, water and food, they stop spending time thinking about them. And so we have untethered ourselves from the hunter/gatherer model and its limited-value creation to usher in the Knowledge Worker. But rather than replace and eliminate the Knowledge Worker, the IoT can promote an evolution to our next level of capability: the Innovation Worker.
With technology, we continue to shorten the distance between a thought and its manifestation in the world. Bringing a product to market used to require tremendous financial investment, years of development and the ability to bring together components and information separated by thousands of miles.
Today, the rate of innovation can be measured in months, weeks and even days, depending upon the application. For example, 3D printers and laser cutters enable us to iterate design and take an idea to a physical prototype more quickly than we have ever been able to do so before.
This evolution impacts our culture as well. Consider that, to children with smartphones, so many layers of technology have become transparent to them. They don’t have to know about how devices connect with each other or how to write a Bluetooth stack or how to securely control and update a device remotely. They just assume two inanimate objects are connected out of the box. The new generation of innovators can look much further ahead than those of us who still think about these things as LEGO blocks that we need to create or solve for. For them, the mesh of connectivity is a foundational layer of Maslov’s hierarchy of technology.
We can already see the truth of this in the tremendous innovation being developed by high school and college students. Check out Kai Kloeper’s design to increase gun safety by locking out a gun to everyone except the person whose fingerprint matches. Kai made the first prototype at the age of 17. Invention has gone quantum, parallel and multi-dimensional, and the acceleration is leaving linear approaches behind. That’s why Arrow has become a technology platform that supports quantum innovation.
The IoT is even an opportunity for us to step out of our doomsday thinking that is stuck in scarcity: We don’t have enough time, money or resources to save the planet. Perhaps this is true given our current innovation limitations. But we do not have to remain trapped in our old ways of thinking. With a focus on unleashing surplus value in people and around us, a very different future unfolds—a tower that is a shrine to improved lives and outcomes, not to technology in its own right.
Consider the partnership between Arrow and Semios to save crops, improve our environment and grow cleaner food by reducing pesticide use. Traditionally, farmers have been at war with insects. The solution has been to kill both “bad” bugs and the good ones, as well as potentially poison our own food, water and air. With IoT technology, Semios has created a pheromone-based pest management system that leverages how insects naturally communicate to prevent damage to fruit crops. It turns out that we can coexist with insects and foster more of them to help with our crops: Annihilation and reduction isn’t the answer. We use their pheromones to redirect and encourage the reproduction of helpful species.
This is only the beginning. What’s the most abundant resource in the human body? Water. The scale required to track water quality, however, is beyond the capabilities of people to do so manually. With IoT technology like that being developed by WaterBot, D-Link and others’ data that was impossible to collect at scale before is now at our fingertips. As this technology spreads, we are going to understand for the first time how the single-largest resource we consume is helping us or hurting us because we will finally know how its quality and composition vary in real time.
To survive, we must focus on creativity
Ultimately, we are the gods of our own creations. And this is our ‘Tower of Babel’ moment. We can chase technology for its own sake, continuing to replace and eliminate people from the system.
Or we can recognize that progress is the story of humanity, not technology. By being vigilant and maintaining our focus on enabling people to be more creative, we can further close the gap between ideas and reality to unleash our greatest potential.
Imagine the future where we stop thinking about moving boxes so that we can focus our creative power on solving people’s problems and creating value. In fact, we will have more than enough mind space and freedom to discover new ways of understanding value. Who knows how much we will be able to expand and scale our ability to solve problems when everyone can innovate.
From here, we will be able to invent new approaches to life and overcome division. Imagine what we’ll create as we learn to work together seamlessly on a global scale.
We will continue to increase the speed at which we innovate. We will also accelerate our social and ethical learning, building an inclusive world.
The analogy shouldn’t be the ‘Tower of Babel’—it should be Promethean. We can steal fire from the gods and change the destiny of our world and lives. We don’t fear innovation or its pace—in fact, we need innovation to accelerate to tackle the problems we know of and the ones we are creating as we fumble our way through learning to harness the awesome power of fire through technology.
Whether it’s the true story of Arrow enabling We Care Solar to unleash the power of solar-energized, ruggedized technology in birthing centers in Rwanda or the evolution of Arrow Certified Indiegogo startup Matrix from body-powered watches to a company using micro-fluctuations in the air to power sensors off the grid worldwide, imagine the commercial implications. Imagine the new problems we can solve. Innovation begets innovation.