Posted by: Ben | December 5, 2008

Web-Searching the Internet of Things

Itemizing the World

So we can assume with the advent of IPv6, RFID chips, and smaller, leaner, smarter appliances and devices, that the internet of things is coming.  Your fridge will talk to the grocery store with your list of favorites (“please always keep the milk, eggs, and cereal stocked”).  WalMart will not just track pallets of inventory using RFID, but all their items will have chips.  When you buy something, you’ll put an RFID or GPS locator on it with your return information, like tags on your animals.

That much has been talked about for while and is the holy grail for bringing the living, breathing, sensing world of the virtual and the real together.

Applications for a Synthesized Digital-Analog Future

But what are the implications for future applications?  We will need new tools to track and visualize all these new “individuals” in a coherent way.

Will there be something interesting about finding out if one object is in proximity to another?  For instance, will a toolkit come with centralized tool tracking so your wrenches don’t get lost and separated?  If we package something up and make a shipping label for it online, can we link it with someone generous or with a shipping service that’s nearby and can take the package for you to a location?  Will we have something like Trinity phoning Tank for the location to the nearest hardline exit from The Matrix?  Certainly some of the most popular applications for the iPhone 3G involve geolocations for your position relative to locations you’d like to go to.

When you’re looking for that sweater you packed away for the summer months in boxes in the basement, will you go to your Google search box on your cell phone first instead of rummaging around for an hour?  Will you type in “grey sweater”, bringing up a search result and proximity tracker so you can zero in on where it is downstairs?

Will we be able to make our devices “public” so we can see visualizations of density and concentration of, say, the use of iPods playing Coldplay in Manhattan right now versus three months ago?  Will we be able to make our devices “read/writeable” so other people can use the web to manipulate our devices?

Overcoming Contradictions

I just finished a two-person project to research innovation processes, and one of the processes we came across was called TRIZ (Teoriya Resheniya Izobretatelskikh Zadatch, meaning “the theory of solving inventor’s problems” or “the theory of inventor’s problem solving”, according to Wikipedia), a process developed by a Soviet engineer Genrich Altschuller.

“Altshuller believed that inventive problems stem from contradictions (one of the basic TRIZ concepts) between two or more elements, such as, “If we want more acceleration, we need a larger engine; but that will increase the cost of the car,” that is, more of something desirable also brings more of something less desirable, or less of something else also desirable.

“These are called Technical Contradictions by Altshuller. He also defined so-called physical or inherent contradictions: More of one thing and less of another may be needed. For instance, a higher temperature may be needed to melt a compound more rapidly, but a lower temperature may be needed to achieve a homogeneous mixture.

“An inventive situation might involve several such contradictions. The inventor typically trades one contradictory parameter for another; no special inventiveness is needed for that. Rather, the inventor would develop some creative approach for resolving the contradiction, such as inventing an engine that produces more acceleration without increasing the cost of the engine.”

TRIZ sought to identify contradictions that served as barriers to solving a problem, and then figuring out a way to solve the contradictions themselves.

The Barrier Between the Virtual and the Real

What we will have to deal with is unprecedented in human history except within fantasy, science fiction, and imagination.  We will have to learn that the internet of things will solve the contradiction that exists between the virtual world and the real world.

We have always assumed there to be a barrier between what we imagine and what we do online, and what actually happens in the real world.

We will have to map all of our software tools developed on PCs and on the web into applications that can manipulate the real world.  It will not be easy for us to conceptualize but those who succeed will make a lot of money doing it.

In some ways it amounts to what was known in the past as magic or just sleight of hand.  We have to imagine that what we create through software will work on new hardware:  the world and objects within it.

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