Experimenting now to get the measure of the future

16 May 2017

People regularly ask me how I can already know what is relevant for the future. Developments concerning the role of technology in our lives and the possible corresponding trends. There’s no easy answer. It’s often all about picking up signals, combining the developments. There’s no hard reality and things don’t always take off so fast as you expect.

IoT has been a buzzword for so long

The Internet of Things (IoT) for example. It’s been a buzzword, a trend for the future, for so long already. I started giving it serious thought back in 2009. At that time LABS did not yet exist and I joined the Internet of Things Council, a group of thinkers and doers who believed in this new change and swapped ideas on the topic, sharing them through presentations and demonstration projects. I reckon you could call 2012 and the following years ‘the breakthrough of IoT’. 2013 was a year in which there was widespread attention and in 2014 we organised the first Dutch edition of ThingsCon, here at info.nl.

However, you can see that things are now really taking off and we’re just at the beginning. Only now, products coming on the market have IoT incorporated in them although they are not being sold as such. They have become a standard component of household products. ‘Sneaking Smart Home’ is how I have occasionally referred to this phenomenon. That may not sound too positive but it’s not so bad. Mind you, it is important to be critical, and that is something we have to consider carefully with ThingsCon. Don’t create IoT products because you can but because they are useful. Most of all, treat all the data that is collected with awareness and respect.

Feeling the shift is the essence of thinking about the future.

In the meantime, we have a team at info.nl that is totally devoted to the development of IoT software. What I find particularly interesting here is how products change their character through the presence of a connection with other products, the user and the datacloud. In the second edition of ThingsCon in the Netherlands in 2015 we called them Connectables; things that acquire their own character through connection.

Connectables

Now a student at TU Delft, who is doing his graduation project at LABS, has developed a connected barbecue, an ultimate manifestation this Connectables perspective. The barbecue helps the user create a better taste experience by adding intelligence and making it available, including historical knowledge about how to grill a delicious hamburger. Each barbecue that leaves the store thereafter is another smarter barbecue.

The physical product will soon be a place on which third-party ‘apps’ can run. Media (cooking shows on TV) or products (sauces) will then be able to offer wholly personal experiences. It is just one small problem that is being solved here, the ultimate barbecue experience, but it is something that gets me excited. Technology is changing our lives, we are creating a completely individual relationship with technology and the things around us.

 

The digital world will continue to merge and blend with our own lives. The next decade will be dedicated to this shift. Screens will become less dominant as other interactions with digital will be added. Haptics (the ‘Internet of Touch’) is something we at LABS have been examining in depth for some time already and speech is now being added. All steered by Artificial Intelligence (AI), the buzzword of 2017. The start of major changes in the next few years. Once things have become digital, we will be one with the digital fabric. AI is already an expression of this.

This impact of digital and interactivity on our lives has always inspired me and helps create focus in what we do with LABS. First, it just concerned the services we used but now we have reached the point.

Don’t create IoT products because you can but because they are useful.

Feeling this shift is the essence of thinking about the future. Being able to make it concrete and tangible is the only way to learn what the impact really is and to take steps into the future. That is why I like to cite that “the true method of knowledge is experiment”, combined with curiosity and open view of the future.

Save the dates!

Come to the 4th ThingsCon Amsterdam on 30 November and 1 December 2017 and take a look into the future when products are connected with each other via the Internet of Things. ThingsCon is a conference on the future of the hardware industry, with a special focus on the Internet of Things and the design of new products and services that combine software and hardware.

Want to know more?