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Every day I see something I want to know more about, something I can experience at a deeper level, and share with my friends and family. I’m hardly alone in that; the average citizen of any connected country is an avid consumer, seeker, and sharer of information — driving over 5.7 billion Google searches each day. But what happens when you see something you can’t describe? Or when you encounter something you can’t accurately communicate to a friend, let alone a search engine?
Sadly, the platforms and tools of the current age of information aren’t much help when trying to learn about . They restrict our ability to learn more about things we cannot describe with words. And while the Internet has powered a new era of human networking and intelligence, the first information revolution fell short of realizing the potential of technology to provide us with the keys we need to fully unlock the world around us in any given moment. This isn’t a new development. Throughout history, our ability to express curiosity for the world around us has been limited only by the technology available.
In today’s age of information, mobile devices and global connectivity have brought an impressive amount of knowledge to our very fingertips. The Internet and powerful text search tools enabled us to discover nearly everything about anything we can describe with words – any text that can be typed into a search engine. But words cannot express the reality of the entire human experience. That said, for all our advancements, the human experience remains largely driven by sight, as it has for millennia. Unsurprisingly, eyeballs have always had a shorter path to the brain than any other sense. And, our ability to quickly derive information and make decisions based on visual data evolved far before our ability to understand language and invent the alphabet.
When the next information revolution arrives, it must then open the door to the physical, visual world and enable people to quickly discover contextual information about the objects and images around them. The future of discovery will be pointing at things we’re curious about and learning relevant information without even having to ask a question. This revolution will transform how we access shared knowledge and impact nearly every aspect of our lives at home and in the workplace.
Revolution is coming, and soon.
Fortunately (and excitingly), this revolution is going to happen much more quickly than many realize. New technologies like image recognition, wearable hardware, machine learning, and augmented/virtual reality have created an ecosystem capable of bringing us closer to a world in which information isn’t just at our fingertips, but accessible through every shape and form around us.
This is the “Internet on Things” — an environment in which information is autonomously accessed in real-time, immediately upon encountering and interacting with something in the world. Unlike the often referenced “Internet of Things,” technology from the Internet on Things isn’t embedded within an object. Instead, the object itself is the key that allows another platform to find and deliver associated data, unlocking relevant information and experiences.
The potential applications for such technology are undoubtedly exciting. But are we ready? A revolution, after all, is inherently disruptive — in the truest sense of the word, not the buzzword bandied about today’s tech community. While the Internet on Things will undoubtedly have a positive, transformative effect on the lives of average consumers, it will pull the rug out from under a range of established companies and create new business practices in virtually every industry.
To get a sense of the far-ranging implications of a new information revolution, we can consider the massive shift the search business drove in the wake of mainstream Internet adoption. As PCs became cheaper and connectivity improved, millions of consumers needed a better way to access the wealth of information that was now available within their homes and offices. In meeting that need, the search industry established the infrastructure that is today continuing to disrupt everything from print advertising to brick & mortar retail.
The best example of the long-term ramifications of an information revolution is, of course, Google.
Google is a microcosm of innovation and disruption. The company took advantage of a vast “Blue Ocean” opportunity created by new technologies and changing consumer preferences, and rode a tidal wave of change that let it grab an increasingly large share of the technology industry at large. Today that includes long-term ripples of the first information revolution, such as YouTube, drones, and self-driving cars.
Putting aside the potential for a “new Google” to hatch in the wake of the next information revolution (one that would further transform advertising, e-commerce and more), the Internet on Things will also cause disruption through the infrastructure required to support it.
Powering this new model will mean indexing all of the world’s visual data — every object and image — and building machines smart enough to return the right, context-sensitive information to an end user. This will require massive investments in technology — both software and hardware — and will be the first barrier for companies seeking to exploit this dynamic space.
There are enormous opportunities on the horizon, but they come alongside a host of challenges. Today we stand on the cusp of a revolution that will reimagine how we interact with the physical world and disrupt industries in every market across the globe. If we can rise to the occasion and overcome the hurdles in front of us, tomorrow we will stand in a world awash with information, an environment in which every person can acquire relevant knowledge about their surroundings in microseconds. Empowered with such ability, what will humanity accomplish next?