Invisible Business: The Emergence of a Parallel Machine-Driven Economy

We increasingly live in two worlds. There is the physical one which is tangible and coherent, and the invisible one which is barely noticed by the average person. In the invisible world, billions upon billions of smart sensors, data, and information systems are creating a “digital nervous system” that interacts autonomously almost as a parallel economy. Its nature and behavior are concerns that have yet to really take center stage, not only in business communities but in most technology communities as well.

EVERYTHING IN ITS PROPER REALM

People are great, but for many important tasks they’re an impediment. Unless you’re living in ancient Egypt, people are not the proper resource for the excavation and heavy-lifting required by skyscraper construction. We have machines for that now — backhoes, bulldozers, cranes, and so on — and no one seems to lament “the good old days” when thousands of slaves carried pyramid-blocks on their backs.

HOW WE GOT HERE

Since the beginning of computing there have essentially been three waves of technology innovation. The first wave in the 1960s to the 1980s was driven by the advent of silicon — microprocessors and microcontrollers that enabled calculations and put computational capabilities into the hands of business and social professionals on a significant scale. Engineers could design products, businesses could manage orders and inventories, and scientists could model and make predictions in realms as diverse as human disease, the weather and natural resources.

THE SHIFT TO AUTONOMOUS SMART SYSTEMS

The third wave of innovation, which is still evolving, is enabled by cheap, pervasive networked sensors and sensor data fusion which are enabling a new generation of “awareness” applications. As networks continue to invade the “physical” world, developers are working with the growing interactions between sensors, machines, systems and people to detect revelatory patterns in large scale sensor and machine data.

LIVING IN TWO WORLDS — THE ADVENT OF INVISIBLE COMMERCE

This cycle of technology development’s most profound impact lies in the integration of smart sensors, machines, information systems and smart algorithms to create a “digital nervous system” that smoothly interacts and makes decisions about a very wide range of situations autonomously.

SYSTEMS OF MACHINES DOING WHAT THEY DO BEST

Whatever we choose to call the next wave on the horizon — autonomous, robotic, self-directed, etc. — intelligent systems will increasingly become self-sensing, self-controlling and self-optimizing automatically, without human intervention. Think of intelligent agents and virtual assistants residing inside systems and making purchase decisions defined by a set of programmed rules. Then think of machines and systems making optimized selections among competing offers based on learning and rules or, ultimately, machines deducing human needs based on rules, context and preferences.

  • Multi-agent AI systems and decentralized autonomous machines enabled to lease themselves out, hire maintenance professionals, and pay for replacement parts.
  • Micro-payments between machines like a car looking for a specific spare part, or drones and farming systems negotiating directly with each other for services.

Founder and president of Harbor Research, a growth strategy consulting and venture development firm with over thirty years of expertise in Smart Systems & IoT.