Note: This post was previously written for and published on the IBM CAI website.
IBM’s Smarter Planet initiative turns seven years old this fall, and the vision painted back then is now becoming reality every single day, thanks in part to the movement toward the Internet of Things. However, you can have an Internet of Things that is not necessarily smart (as you’ll read later).
During a speech titled “A Smarter Planet: The Next Leadership Agenda,” given at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York City on November 6, 2008, then IBM Chairman and CEO Sam Palmisano outlined the premise of a smarter planet made up of whole new generation of intelligent systems and technologies. Then in January 2010, Palmisano spoke with the Chatham House about the “Decade of Smart” – highlighting dozens of initiatives in which leaders created smarter systems to solve the planet’s most pressing problems.
Both speeches emphasized how the world’s systems and industries are becoming more instrumented, interconnected and intelligent:
- Instrumented: Information captured wherever it exists, such as through the use of remote sensors
- Interconnected: Information moved from the collection point to wherever it can be usefully consumed.
- Intelligent: Information processed, analyzed and acted upon to derive greater knowledge and value.
Given where we are today, with all the buzz around the Internet of Things, it’s a good time to revisit these three pillars of a Smarter Planet. Let’s take a closer look.
There is no question that the world has been getting increasingly instrumented and that the trend will continue. IDC has estimated that by 2020 there will be 30 billion Internet-connected, sensor-enabled objects and another 182 billion that could easily be enabled. Powerful computing capability can now be inexpensively delivered in forms so small that it is being put into things no one would recognize as computers: RFID tags in stand-alone products, sensors in cars, appliances, rail lines, highways, power grids, golf balls, fitness and health monitors, shoes, and even baby clothes. Devices are being embedded across processes and global supply chains and even in natural systems, such as agriculture and waterways. These physical objects with embedded devices are the “things” that will make up the “Internet of Things.”
Given that these physical objects will have computing capability, it’s natural to assume that they can have an IP address. The importance of the IP address is very significant to the Smarter Planet vision. That means these physical objects can be accessed via the Internet and that they can communicate with other objects that have IP addresses.
A key enabler of the concept of interconnected things is cloud computing. With cloud computing, networks of Internet-addressable objects can be monitored in real time and can communicate with each other directly across public or private networks. This kind of interconnection – with objects communicating data collected to other devices, systems and humans and vice versa – is what the “Internet of Things” is all about. And it’s already starting to emerge.
The third “I” is arguably the most important pillar in the Smarter Planet vision, and the one overlooked in many Internet of Things discussions. Our planet Earth could be covered in an Internet of Things, but without the ability to create intelligence, it will never become a Smarter Planet.
Intelligence does not happen just by embedding sensors and computers in objects and then connecting those objects to the Internet. Making the world smarter requires gathering all of the data that is observed and collected by the “things,” analyzing that data (either at the device level or via analytics capability in the cloud), and then making decisions that improve businesses, industries and society.
To make sense of all the data that will be captured, we need sophisticated big data, analytics and cognitive computing systems that turn all the data into intelligence. This intelligence will allow us to become smarter….to help us reduce cost and waste, improve efficiency and productivity, and raise the quality of everything from our products, to our companies, to our cities.
When instrumentation and interconnectedness is combined with intelligence, it can lead to unprecedented real-time visibility into our business processes, systems, infrastructures, and entire supply chains. So, while the emerging concept of an Internet of Things is a critical foundation for a Smarter Planet, we need to make sure that we don’t forget the third “I”. An intelligent Internet of Things will enable us to create a Smarter Planet that is much greener, more efficient, more comfortable and safer.
Want to know more? Explore what is new on a Smarter Planet.