Ten years ago, I co-founded RIoT to unite the Research Triangle Region around the Internet of Things. I saw then the opportunity for our region to be the recognized Center of Excellence of the next major shift of the global economy. [ASIDE – RIoT is holding a 10th Anniversary Celebration March 19 at 5 p.m. along with our partners Raleigh Founded and NC IDEA.  Please feel welcome to register and attend].

Early in my career, I had lived through the coincident technology tipping points of the launch of the internet and the shift from analog to digital communications. Those shifts combined to create a seismic shift in our economy to one that is clearly defined today as “pre-internet” versus “post-internet.”

Let’s face it, no new company today would ever NOT use the internet and digital communications in their business.  Even the least tech-adjacent businesses still have email, websites and mobile phone numbers. Most industry and commerce has become foundationally tied to the internet.

In the early 2010s, I saw similar commercial-readiness “tipping” in data analytics, energy harvesting, battery storage, nanotechnology and wireless communications. There were advances in each of these areas that were not mere incremental evolutionary gains – but were step-change improvements. And importantly, these were not improvements only feasible in a research lab – these were improvements that could scale.

I’ll briefly summarize this way:

  • The cost per computation to analyze data was approaching $0.
    • This means that computationally heavy machine learning and artificial intelligence was finally commercially viable
  • The cost per data point to store data was approaching $0.
    • This means that we could collect large enough data sets to properly train AI in meaningful and nuanced ways.
  • The cost to produce and package simple semiconductors for sensing applications at scale was approaching $0.
    • This means that sensors could now be deployed everywhere, even in extremely low-cost devices.
  • The cost per data package to transmit data wirelessly across long distances was approaching $0.
    • This means that data could be collected from anywhere in the world and instantly be aggregated with other data affordably.
  • The efficiency to harvest energy from our environment and to efficiently store energy in batteries was improving at both ends of the scale.
    • Small devices could finally be self-powered, running perpetually from the environment around them and enabling persistent sensor data collection.
    • Large devices (e.g. cars, planes, homes) could become part of a new energy network infrastructure as both consumers of electricity and storers/distributors of it. Further, these large devices, with compute and power, could now be part of an “edge cloud” reducing dependence on centralized data centers for compute.

Any time you have powerful new technology capabilities available at near zero cost, it means that anyone can suddenly be an innovator.  When we focus on accessibility, everyone can participate in innovation. It was clear to me that the Internet of Things was the umbrella term above all of these technologies.

Tim Berners-Lee is widely considered to be the inventor of the Internet.  In 1990, he coined the “World Wide Web.”  That term stuck for a while, but ultimately was transient. Eventually, the much broader term “Internet” became how we fundamentally describe the network of connected devices and computers that powers every aspect of our lives today.

The Internet of Things may also be a transient term. Too many people fixate on the “thing,” thinking IoT is only about devices. This couldn’t be further from the truth. IoT is about the automation of data. In the internet age, networked computers take advantage of stored, cataloged, tagged and filtered information to enable services and applications.

In the data economy – which is the term I believe may replace IoT – we are on a ruthless effort to shrink the lifecycle of data to zero. Ultimately IoT enables us to collect sensor data from everywhere, immediately aggregate it, immediately analyze it, immediately visualize it and immediately automate a response.

Pure automation, in real-time, will displace our common internet-based processes and services. In the future, no new business will NOT be a data business, implementing real-time automation for competitive advantage. The internet killed the yellow pages. Searching information databases was simply more powerful than flipping through a book. Google is already seeing AI assistants kill search. In the future, the text search bar will be a novelty seen in 2000s movies and museums.

AI and ML (analytics automation), AR and VR (visualization automation), 5G and LPWAN (aggregation automation), energy harvesting (system power automation), and edge sensors and cameras (data generation automation) are all IoT technologies. These are all components of data economy systems of automation.

When RIoT was formed, it was clear to me that our region had the expertise, the diversity and the early-mover advantage to become recognized as the Global Center of Excellence for IoT. The data economy wasn’t yet a term in my mind (Even if it was, it wouldn’t have created such a cool company name – RDE? 🙂).

I hope you’ll join me on Tuesday evening where I’ll share how we have progressed in our leadership journey over the past 10 years and what new technology tipping points we should expect in the coming decade.