Gartner predicts that by 2010 three major trends -- ubiquitous access, ambient intelligence and semantic connectivity -- will converge to create disruptions and opportunities as significant as the Web. It's not far fetched, but it will happen in ongoing spurts rather than as a big bang culminating at the end of the decade. That’s one of the problems with the use of "disruptive" as an adjective for technology. The expectation is that you will wake up one day and a whole new world order will be in place—free super broadband wireless access everywhere, milk cartons talking to refrigerators talking to stores talking to dairy distributors talking to genetically engineered cows with silicon implants in their udders. Be patient…
Ubiquitous access is a foregone conclusion, and we are on a path over the next decade to anytime, anywhere connectivity at high speeds. By 2015, users will roam across six networks in a single day and access net services using a wide range of devices, according to Gartner analyst Nick Jones.
Ambient intelligence --imbuing objects with some smarts (via electro-mechanical systems and RFID) -- is another no-brainer. The cost of tags are coming down and the applications are obvious, from managing inventory in warehouses and retail locations to measuring temperature and water levels in potted plants. Assembling various data from remote sensors would allow insurance companies to offer dynamic, risk-based pricing for drivers. Gartner predicts that by 2015, an average urban dweller will have more than 20 supplemental bits of real-time, digital information, compared to one or two in 2004.
According to Gartner analyst Carl Claunch, major improvements in display technology —such as Organic Light Emitting Diodes (OLED) that allow for flexible plastic screens, cheap manufacturing, high contrast and high refresh rates--will allow users to see all kinds of information, such as data on people in their field of vision, repair instructions and key performance indicators for business and personal health. This kind of fine-grained monitoring also brings unresolved security and privacy issues.
Mesh networks, which are self organizing, highly reliable, peer-to-peer, low power nodes, combined with RFID will allow for new kinds of applications. Mesh networks can dynamically route packets depending on the availability of nodes and have no central point of failure or control. Gartner analyst Steve Prentice mentioned a paper manufacturing company in Sweden with 35,000 square miles of forest that was considering putting smart sensor on trees in a mesh network to collect information about the timber, such as the water content, to get a better handle on when and what to harvest for pulping. He mentioned several companies involved in creating technology for RFID/mesh networks (also known as smart dust) --Crossbow, Dust, Ember, Millennial Net and Zensys.
Gartner predicts that by 2015, collective intelligence breakthroughs will likely drive a 10 percent productivity increase, and the ratio of managers to knowledge producers will be reduced by 50 percent. The idea is that through data mining and more flattened collaborative environments, the collective inputs from groups can yield better, more distributed decisions. For example, aggregating information from a broad group could lead to predictive markets that offer more reliable forecasting of events, trends or directions that a company should take. Wikis were given as an example of a collaborative system that helps to "democratize" decision making, moving from centralized to distributed authority. Harvesting collective intelligence to discover relevant patterns that can enable better decisions and improvements in productivity is likely to happen sooner than 2015 for many industries and applications, especially as new, improved algorithms are developed. But, collective content creation and decision making via wikis or other collaborative systems and social networks, with no central authority, require a culture and organization shift that most corporations will be very slow to embed in their DNA.
The third component, semantic connectivity, is bit more fuzzy. Partly, it’s coming up with common language, definition and terms so that all those smart objects can communicate with each other. Gartner predicts that "semantic" technologies, including tagging and more formal codification, will facilitate data interchange and validation and mapping between different terminologies. According to Gartner analyst Alexander Linden, by 2008, "the language of logic, as chosen by the core Semantic Web with OWL (Web Ontology Language), Resource Description Framework (RDF) and topic maps or their derivatives, will become the underlying common language of storing, accessing and sharing metadata."
Universal, high-bandwidth access, some form of communicable intelligence in all things and semantic technologies that create a framework for meaningful information sharing and reuse by machines are all works in progress, with their own trajectories and battles to wage. Whether they come together in five years to create something greater than the original Web is doubtful, but eventually the three components will reach a collective "tipping point" that fuels new kinds of applications and business models, with far more "native" intelligence embedded within the network...