The basics

Rob van Kranenburg, Founder of IoT Council, Ecosystem Manager for EU projects Tagitsmart and Next Generation Internet talks about pervasive computing, cloud, smart devices, digital twins, processing and storage power.

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Basically, there are three things you need to know about the internet of things. The first is that it's not really new and this may seem strange because you only maybe are just now hearing of it. But in fact, it's like a 50 year old automation operation and it was known as pervasive computing or ubiquitous computing and at around 2000 as ambient intelligence. It's only around 2000 that the term the internet of things comes up and there is something else happening around that time and that's the cloud. So basically all the smart catches--the things that we talk about smart homes, wearables, smart car, smart cities all this attaching connectivity to objects making them smart or intelligent is happening in the seventies, eighties, and the nineties. But then there is no cloud--there's no ability to store that data. So you can only do demos. Around 2000 the cloud: an immense amount of service storage space opens up and then it becomes possible to actually see what we see nowadays. Basically every operation, every commercial operation is building on intelligent or smart objects which is now called the internet of things. So the fact that it is not really new is really important because it's happening very fast and it can seem as if it's happening overnight but it's not happening overnight it's been happening for the past 50-60 years but it has been happening at the back end has not been happening in the front, it's not been happening in your everyday environments. It has been happening in the factories and automation. Now the second thing is really important and it is that this internet of things is something that will encompass and will be in your everyday life in such a way that it basically becomes invisible. So it's there but you may not really notice that it's there. And that's because it is built on invisibility, it is built on waves, and it is built on radio when you don't really see this as we humans are really tuned to basically see only what's in front of us, looking at things that we can touch tangible things. All the things that we really cannot see, these invisible things, are really difficult for us to grasp immediately as something important. This internet of things is not really about technology but it's about management and operational efficiency. In fact it's about politics and it's about power. And that's why I'm interested in it. I'm not so much interested in internet of things as a technology because it's pretty mundane, pretty simple as well. It's not rocket science, it is radio and most engineers are also not really excited by the fact that it's so technologically difficult or so complex because actually it is not. But the repercussions are immense. And that's why I'm interested in it: because it's creating massive disruption in basically every part of our society. 



So let's look at this internet of things basically at what it is and then you have two main strands. One is really everything going on in a passive way which is objects that will have some kind of a deck that can be read out in some way. So we all know the bar codes. The bar codes are from 1974. It was a massive operation and stake management and ecosystem management actually make that happen but basically now every object on the planet has a bar code. If you would have said this in 1974 people would have said, no I'm not really sure if we can actually do this, but we can. Now this bar code is identifying let's say if you have bottles of coke, a 1000 bottles of coke, or 10,000 bottles of coke but as we speak we're going down to item level and item level means that every object on this planet every shirt, every bottle of coke, every bottle of water, every package of coffee will have its own unique identifier and this will happen through either radio frequency identification or near field communication that is in your phone basically already, or some smart X or bar codes or smart bar codes. This line of connectivity is still basically passive but is really important. It means that from now on you've got to look at the world as a world full of digital twins as they call it. So every object has its unique virtual representation somewhere in the cloud. Now what is the cloud? The cloud is just your computer. The cloud is just computer storage: it is this beautiful world that actually takes it up to the cloud but in fact it's just all our computers combined. That and a lot of mathematics in these computers: virtualization which is an operation has led to the possibility to store all these data it seems in a kind of endless way. Now the cloud is this all these farms of all these computers all the service just humming out there. And the Edge is all the computing power that's in your own devices. So that's the computing power that's in your car, the computing power that's in your coffee machine, in your camera, in your phone, and the lantern pole. All these computers, that's basically already your phone or your coffee machine or your washing machine are getting stronger in terms of processing power and are also getting stronger in terms of storage. So this means that instead of your washing machine sending information directly continuously to the cloud having to have some kind of connectivity that is continuously running which you also have to pay for, the data coming from the washing machine is actually being stored on the washing machine for let's say about an hour or two hours or a day and then sending that accumulated data up to the cloud twice a day or three times a day so this means that people are now talking about artificial intelligence, machine learning, deep learning all of this may be possible in or on your washing machine so that the washing machine actually becomes smart but locally smart. So the Edge is basically all the devices that can be around you, that have more processing power, more storage power that can run their own operating system. Now all of this is gone so extremely fast that it was impossible to think about this 50 years ago, 30 years ago. With the extreme speed in this, technologically speaking, it now becomes possible to run analytics, to run scenarios, run processing management of your entire home on the washing machine because a washing machine also knows the nest maybe or some other smart thermostat. It knows what the coffee machine is doing it knows what your devices are doing, and can actually maybe then keep some spare amount of processing power to do some mining of some coins if you want to do that in your home as well.



Internet of things is going to make every object smart. So it's either going to be digitally addressable which means that we're going to be able to identify every good, every object on this planet. Or we are going to send some information because we'll have some processing power. Now then it is clear that not one governance model from the old system from anything beyond the fifties of the last century will be able to stand--this is what we feel. We feel that it is all crumbling and the politicians, the people that are doing the governments have no answer to this, they have no clue. Of course, I mean there are some people who actually know what they're doing but they're not here in Europe I'm afraid. At the moment they are in China and they're in Singapore and Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and all kinds of countries that are building their own clouds, their own intranets and are looking out for their own data on their own data systems. As the old tools are no longer working and the new ones are not yet there we are always in a crisis of trust that this is historical situation. In every new moment in history where things change when new paradigms come up we need new notions of trust and now it is nothing different. Now we need a new notion of trust and in comes the blockchain. The blockchain is this double ledger system that is pretty simple. It means if we make a transaction that I keep note of that transition, you keep note of the same transaction and everybody in the room does the same so it becomes impossible to change something in that transaction because everybody has all the data. This was only possible in very peculiar, particular situations where the data was sparse because it was impossible to keep double booked ledger system. If you really want to write everything down simply the amount of paper would be gone. So in this situation something like the blockchain is really logical and that's why it's happening. We lack the trust going from the old situation to the new we lack trust an in comes the blockchain and the blockchain builds this new notion of trust. And it builds it with the same technological tools as building IOT. This is now creating a massive amount of work on what is called FinTech, on blockchain, on ICO’s.  There is about 1600 of these ICO’s. There's all kinds of people that are building their own blockchains and then running their own coins, their own tokens on it. And it's becoming real in the sense that it's hitting real use cases and when it is hitting real use case it is starting to build real value and when it is building real value it's becoming real business. And that's a situation which we are basically in now. So blockchain, distributed ledger technology, internet of things, trust, it is old connected with this strange paradigm shift of this old situation based on the book, based on patterns, based on exclusivity, based on hiding information, to the internet of things which is based on transparency, based on openness, based on sharing information. And that's a fantastic shift because it will bring much more common sense into decision making. 



GDPR is a perfect tool for China. It would be a perfect tool for a position in which you own a system. China has a huge integration and they could implement GDPR and hard code it. For Europe at this moment in time the GDPR is the least effective attempt to deal with this digital transition. I was in an expert group on the internet of things in 2009 - 2010 and we really had momentum. The European Parliament came out with a memorandum on the internet of things and talking all good points. They were a few MPs who really got it. And the commission that set up this this expert group on the internet of things was headed by Jared Santucci. In this expert group I was present and I witnessed especially the article working party 29 and a lot of French thinkers being really upset with Facebook and the Americans and so on, all of this happening. It was quite logical and quite real but also I saw that they had no clue about internet of things. They did not understand this digital transition. They did not understand the fact that you go into a hybrid reality in which all around us this internet of things will be infused in all these objects. So trying to regulate your mailbox by not having spam is like the equivalent of trying to walk in the city and trying not to see ads. So all of this boils down to learning people the skills to deal with this--not trying to get them out of this situation or try to regulate what's coming in. That is something that is definitely unhelpful, it's ineffective, and it's I would say the least welcome response that we have at this moment, that we can have at this moment in Europe. It's going to handicap us, it is already handicapping us. It is going to keep people more in their bubbles than not and effectively, I would say, it's really detrimental in helping policy makers to understand what's really happening. So the GDPR is not addressing any of the drivers of this digital transition. It's only looking at the consequences. It is trying to regulate the consequences, the repercussions of what's happening. That is only giving a kind of a legal response, but you cannot have a legal/lawyer response towards a paradigm shift.