Exploring emerging technology convergence and its wider impact – from IoT, to AI, to 5G and more

Opinion Technology buying, adoption and development have their own cycles; their own circadian rhythms which are difficult to modify, if you will. It is through looking at these theories as well as current emerging technologies that the latest pattern of convergence can be pegged and prophesised.

Moore’s Law may soon run out of steam, but it continues to shape the semiconductor industry lifecycle. Gartner’s regular hype cycles have outlined a long-running pattern of confidence with the arrival of a new technology, followed by cynicism, before the two meet somewhere in the middle.

Another example relates to how technology becomes industrialised. It takes somewhere in the region of 30 to 50 years for technology to ‘industralise’. Within a few years of that eureka moment, the winners and losers are decided, before the technology moves towards mass-market adoption.

The origins of cloud computing – the concept, rather than the name – go back as far as the 1960s, when Douglas Parkhill published ‘The Challenge of the Computer Utility’. It was in 2006 when Amazon Web Services (AWS) EC2 was launched – essentially ‘year zero’ for cloud. While some still quibble over the exact figures, it is now generally agreed that AWS holds the number one position in cloud infrastructure, with Microsoft and Google taking the silver and bronze medals respectively.

In terms of more emerging technologies, such as the Internet of Things (IoT), blockchain and artificial intelligence (AI), these battles are still in the process of being won, which makes it so exciting for stakeholders and industry watchers alike.

Getting the correct standards and protocols are a key part of this journey – but with standardisation however comes compartmentalisation and compromise before, finally, control. Plenty of bodies are fighting for space in the IoT realm, from ZigBee, to Bluetooth Low Energy, to the various initiatives put forward by the IEEE. Yet as Jaap Groot, vice chair of the LoRa Alliance in Europe, told this reporter in June, there has to be room for more than one option in a complex, connected enterprise.

The technology in question, LoRaWAN, would not be appropriate for a device such as a security camera in a smart building, because the throughput is too poor for continuous access, but for a connected smoke detector it would be much more appropriate.

The good news is that these standards, and technologies, do not have to fight for room any more. “As the challenge for any IoT solution today is to drive a proven ROI, it is clear that cost reductions at [the] sensor level allow for faster returns,” said Groot. “With the AI, analytics and machine learning techniques implemented in the cloud, or sometimes at the edge, the value of connecting the assets becomes a differentiator for many solution providers in driving their end users.”

Plenty of examples can be seen of emerging technologies working in tandem – their nascence in terms of industrialisation making pilot projects fitful, if perhaps not entirely fruitful. Bosch is an example of a major industrial firm making bold bets; in May the company announced plans to integrate blockchain into its initiatives around electric car charging and smart parking management. Earlier this month the UK Department for Transport awarded £2 million in funding to a project using AI to gauge road maintenance.

Pat Gelsinger, the chief executive of VMware, frequently mentions the idea of tech ‘superpowers’; good on their own, but even better together. Mobile connectivity, backed up by 5G, creates lots of data. The data can be filtered and analysed using AI. AI implementation can be made simpler at the edge or through IoT – a topic Intel discussed earlier this month. More edge use cases requires more cloud to store and compute the data.

While this convergence has evident potential, a wider societal impact could be seen. Ultimately, this convergence could be seen as a branch of what has occasionally been called Web 3.0. Many proponents argue it will see tech truly become utopian again, returning control to the users. The moves from Microsoft and Google into open source initiatives can be seen as heartening in that regard, but more work may need to be done.

Speaking to sister publication The Block in April Jamie Burke, founder and CEO of Outlier Ventures, argued the reasons why decentralisation was necessary to create a better web. “We’ve got these very centralised platforms that became gatekeepers, data monopolies and, subsequently, AI monopolies. Ironically it’s called the social web, but it’s much more of an anti-social web.”

Whatever will happen in the coming years, one thing is for sure: it is going to be a monumental change both for business and society. Convergence is inevitable - but its effects and implications are something the industry has to get right.

The co-located event series, IoT Tech Expo, Blockchain Expo, AI & Big Data Expo, and Cyber Security & Cloud Expo, is returning to Silicon Valley on November 13-14 2019. The event will see the launch of 5G Expo, as well as a specific conference track exploring convergence. The conference agenda will examine the impact of these technologies on industries including manufacturing, transportation, automotive, supply chain, logistics, finance, insurance, healthcare, retail, government, energy, utilities and more.

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