Remember yelling at your brother to get off the phone so that you could get on the internet? Before the instant cloud downloads and ultra-fast streaming, you had to wait for your dial-up to connect. Nowadays, waiting for a laggy YouTube clip to load causes critical levels of frustration. It all runs so smoothly that it’s hard to imagine that there were massive struggles and changes the world underwent to get the technology behind the internet working. But the truth is, we’ve had to evolve our infrastructural systems a hundred times over to support this change. The Internet of Things is no exception to that rule.
Before we get into IoT talk, let’s make an important distinction. Infrastructure inversion is a switch in mindset, kind of like a foreground-background switch. For example, let’s consider the case of the bicycle. Early critics considered it to be a dangerous substitute for a horse—a fad and a nuisance along narrow city streets. Despite that initial fear, however, we’ve now got cities like Copenhagen. Our lifestyles and urban spaces have been completely revitalized by bicycles. The solution, in this case, was not to make the bikes more narrow-street-friendly but to build a new infrastructure to support it. This is what we mean when we say “infrastructure inversion”— the process of flipping the way we look at the problems of novel technology. It’s a productive way to analyze our tech problems and results in plenty of opportunities for invention and innovation of bigger, better, faster, and smarter things.
Support for the IoT
So how does this apply to the IoT? Judging by the fact that we all didn’t get to work on time today in perfectly-synced autonomous vehicles, there are still a ton of limitations to IoT technology. People like to talk about how it’s too complex, or just isn’t useful. But consider this: in the IoT, objects share massive amounts of data with each other in real-time. They’re connected via Bluetooth chips, wifi, radio— all of our existing infrastructure. But these narrow city streets will no longer do! Just like with bicycles, if we change the way our infrastructure functions and communicates, we can make things like commuting to work more efficient and eco-friendly.
Paving the way
It’s not the objects, it’s their environment. Powerful IoT objects like smart speakers still rely on something as finicky as your router. It’s high time we focus our efforts on a new infrastructure where machine-enhanced objects form a network, like a Smart City. If we try to look for new channels, we might even be able to change the whole economy: most products in the future will be manufactured with the IoT in mind. That means a chip in nearly everything you own— and already, projections show the number of IoT devices will exceed 75 billion by 2025. That’s ten IoT devices for every one person on Earth.
No one liked the internet when it first came out. And it’s easy to see why. The earliest versions of the internet were built to run on the infrastructure we already had— and cramming large amounts of data through your phone line doesn’t work very well at all. And so people didn’t trust it right away. But you know how that story went: as the internet grew, so did the need for dedicated internet technology— and the new internet infrastructure caused a massive boom in technological and societal innovation. Now, we do it all online. And soon enough, the IoT will have its day. Let’s look forward to our seamless future.