A decade ago, when Cisco helped connect millions of devices to the Internet, we proclaimed we were in the midst of an “Internet Revolution.” We were wrong. What we witnessed at the onset of the 21st Century, as remarkable as it was, was merely a prelude. While still in the distance, we are now seeing what the Internet is delivering: an age of information and freedom that we could never fathom just 10 short years ago.
We are rapidly heading into a new era that will not be measured by the number of users, devices or connections. What is changing the world, profoundly, is the value those connections make possible. When we connected the first 500 million devices to the Internet, it seemed to reshape our lives. But now we are on the cusp of a transformation that connects everything to the Internet. Highways, buildings, farms, satellites, solar panels, cars, milk cartons, cows … everything.
Each of these connections brings its own unique value, and the value increases even more with the exponential growth in potential connections between everything. These connections, combined with access to the world’s knowledge at our fingertips, will empower people in ways that we never imagined. Connections between people, between people and context-aware sensors and machines, and between machines themselves will help people turn data into actionable information, resulting in richer experiences and unprecedented value for individuals, businesses, communities and countries. We’re just starting to experience the phenomenon that we call the “Internet of Everything.”
When Apple introduced Siri in 2010, it seemed like a revelation. And soon, it will seem elementary. In the very near future, everyone will have access to artificial intelligence that will connect to all the world’s information. Think about that: In just a few years, through the power of billions of connections accessing the world’s knowledge and everything that is happening in real-time, every person who has access to the Internet could have the world’s smartest adviser at his or her side. That “smart adviser” will give us sophisticated advice; guide us on our travels while all along connecting every facet of our life together.
We currently live in a world where more than 99 percent of all physical objects are not connected to the network. What happens when a mere 10 percent get connected? What happens when we connect people, process, data and things? That’s hundreds of billions of things talking to each other, behind the scenes, to enrich and facilitate our lives.
If the notion of the “Internet of Everything” alarms you a bit, I wouldn’t be surprised. We have to get this new world right. We have to ensure that the technologies we create enrich our lives, not make us captive. We have to ensure that as we connect, our privacy and security are not violated. But make no mistake; we must anticipate and address these issues, because our future is a connected one. It was said that the Internet eliminated time and distance. The Internet of Everything (or IoE) makes MetCalfe’s law — wherein the value of a network increases proportionally to the square of the number of devices connected to the network — perhaps the most important principle on earth.
Because when we connect, we enlighten. Societies will become transparent as data turns into actionable information and flows freely. It will be folly for a country to try to limit its citizens’ access to knowledge. Business success will be based on not only on the fast beating the slow, but the connected trumping the unconnected. Every business — no matter what size — will have to have a personal relationship with each customer to survive.
If the “Arab Spring” didn’t show you this, we are clearly entering the age of the citizen. The technological revolution of the last twenty years — enabling us to be virtual, visual, social and mobile all at the same time — has created the greatest human empowerment since Thomas Jefferson wrote about our “inalienable rights” in the U.S. Declaration of Independence. As an individual, you will truly choose the world in which you want to live.
When the Internet emerged in the mid 1990s, we were astounded by its disruptive influence. It was merely the beginning. For every two people connected around the globe, there are 5 others who soon will be. And for every device connected to the Internet, 10 more will join it in the near future. As that happens, our world will transform more in the next 20 years than it has in all of human history.
John Chambers is Chairman and CEO of Cisco.