In the 1980’s and into the 1990’s there was a movement in technology towards objects. The idea was than any and all data, applications, devices etc. could be broken down into a series of discrete pieces of information, and the use of this information could be described in a consistent way. This would allow everything to work together harmoniously without complex pre-work to describe what everything was.
The issue (at that time) was that for most types of data the meta-data to describe it was actually much larger than the data itself, and this was a huge problem when networks were slower than the spoken word and data storage was more expensive than postage. So the idea slowly died and morphed, and we have been left with a really messy series of standards which make sharing data and devices complex and expensive.
Now I know that I am paraphrasing the whole issue here, but there is no doubt that where we are, is not where we want to be in terms of integrated systems.
Imagine if every piece of data was wrapped in a consistent set of metadata (data about the data).
Imagine if you were sent an email with a specific type of data attached to it, that the data would self-describe its value, keep a record of who created it, what application was needed to use it, and even where the code to use it resided.
Imagine if every internet connected device could provide details on its use, location and current state when asked. So when you enter a house and you could automatically be part of that houses network. Your environmental preferences would automatically be shared with the house, and your entertainment preferences would be available on each device in the house. Obviously assuming that you had the approval of the houses prioritized users.
Imagine that when you program your phones map app to take you to a specific place, your diary and the diaries of everyone you are meeting that day are automatically updated with travel times and arrival times. And the systems in the place you are going to are updated with your drink and food preferences and a desk is reserved for you automatically for when you arrive or the meeting room you are planning to use is automatically chosen based on the number of people who are meeting.
Imagine if in an emergency all the connected devices in a building on fire could be viewed by those trying to help. Every temperature sensor and video feed was automatically available to them, and any phone picked up would automatically connect to the on-site emergency teams without any buttons needing to be pressed. All water, gas and power would be selectively turned off or on by the emergency teams as needed.
Imagine if the sensors in every car, street light and road sign were shared amongst themselves, providing a mesh of knowledge available to every road user, and that journeys were planned with the knowledge about the current conditions, dynamically updated with the planned journeys of every other road user.
Imagine if a doctor was able to review the health data of a patient collected by the patients watch, phone, home and pharmacist building a profile of the patient’s history to help diagnose from subtle changes in their physical condition important early diagnosis of problems allowing for much better treatments.
If every piece of data and every internet connected device could describe itself in a consistent and meaningful way, the possibilities are endless.
There are of course risks associated with easier communication, risks that actually may be greater than the benefits.
It’s almost an evolutionary level risk.
Within a species a continual flow of random mutations creates the likelihood that some variants will survive in any type of changing environment or to put it another way diversity is good.
If all information systems were to follow a single standard, then the possibility would exist of total destruction of the entire system. We have already seen that computer viruses designed to attack windows systems can impact millions of systems at the same time. Smug mac users have always felt safer, but that safety only comes from the simple fact that they are a separate sub-species. It is very hard for an infection to spread across species (biological or technical), but in a world where all data and devices were unified behind one standard, that standard itself could become a risk.
The value of total interconnectivity is immense, but the implications of everything being compromised would be too terrible to consider.
Is it possible to create an interconnected would that is secure enough to be viable?
That is the cold war not just of this century but probably for the whole future of humanity.