Interconnection is bringing the future faster than ever

Interconnection is behind the explosion of tech trends that have been with us for decades.

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The science behind a lot of today’s newest trends is actually pretty old.

John McCarthy is considered the father of AI after he coined the phrase in 1955 and then held the first academic conference on the topic the next year.

The term “virtual reality” was first used in the mid-1980s, but the attempts to use electronics to develop simulated environments also reach back to the 1950s.

Then, there’s the Internet of Things (IoT). It’s a hot topic now, but it’s been nearly 20 years since the phrase was introduced in 1999. And the first connected “thing” (a toaster created by John Romkey and Simon Hackett) actually debuted even earlier, in 1990.

It all reminds us there’s often a good-sized gap between when science makes a technology possible and when it becomes commonplace. When it comes to artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality/augmented reality (VR/AR) and the IoT, recent advances in digital have helped bridge that gap more quickly than ever. And since these are intersecting technologies, advances in one have boosted the other. So instead of having to wait a few more decades, we’re all getting a chance (at events like the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show) to watch the unbelievable become possible right now.

AI, VR/AR and IoT all have something else in common besides their recently accelerated development– they all have the same set of dependencies: each requires relatively sophisticated devices, excellent network connectivity and robust cloud infrastructures. And none of it works as well as it should without interconnection among these systems, devices, applications and services.

Advances, big and small

So, what are some of the conditions in place today that have enabled the development of technologies like AI, VR/AR or the IoT? Briefly, here are few that come to mind.

  • Ubiquitous network connectivity. Of course, the internet isn’t as ubiquitous as we sometimes assume – about half the world’s population of 7.6 billion isn’t on it yet. Still, half of it is, and the percentage is growing. Digital technologies rely on this global high-speed network connectivity, and in past years it simply wasn’t accessible in many regions of the world.
  • Massive, elastic, compute-on-demand capabilities. Amazon was growing fast, but its IT wasn’t keeping up. So one of its website engineering teams began exploring how abstraction and decoupling the applications from the infrastructure could make the infrastructure easier to manage. They quickly realized doing that wasn’t just an internal solution – it would also have value outside Amazon if they sold infrastructure as a service. The end result was the creation of an infinitely scalable cloud platform. The instant and unprecedented computing power Amazon Web Services and similar platforms offer has become the backbone of countless AI, VR/AR and IoT services.
  • Standardized underlying compute infrastructure. When the IoT was in its early days, its components were often extremely specialized and aimed at a particular solution, often in high-margin industries – such as a network of sensors deployed to monitor equipment for a specific energy company. The IoT couldn’t become a true global network until a standardized global compute infrastructure was developed. Hello, cloud. A homogeneous underlying approach allows endless customization at the presentation level and enables innovation by companies that simply could not have afforded access to the scale and computing power widely available today.

All this shows up in conferences like CES 2018 in big and small ways. Some companies are trying to change transportation with driverless cars. Some are trying to change a 7-year-old’s bedtime habits with AR-enabled toothbrushes. Here a few of the cool things we noticed coming out of CES this year.

  • AI: Gartner Research Director Roberta Cozza said this in a statement released just before CES: “To remain relevant, technology vendors must integrate AI into every aspect of their devices, or face marginalization.” Exhibitors seemed to agree. Amazon demonstrated numerous products that worked with its Alexa virtual assistant, including robovacuums, light dimmers and mosquito zappers. The Nimbo security robot by Turing Video and Segway Robotics can patrol specific routes, analyze its surroundings and human activities, collect evidence and notify security personnel when things are amiss. And the Nvidia Xavier is a license-plated sized supercomputer that analyzes data from radar, lidar, cameras and ultrasonic sensors to enable vehicles so autonomous, no steering wheel is needed.
  • VR/AR: Today’s virtual reality technology is good at immersing you in worlds you experience mainly through sight and sound. But what about touch? The Startup Sense Glove enables users to virtually pick up and feel objects. You can squeeze and toss a ball or stack blocks. If you clutch a virtual glass jar too tightly, it shatters and the glove vibrates. In the AR category, Kolibree’s smart toothbrush lets kids play games (and appear to be a princess or pirate) while they improve brushing. For instance, in one game a kid might move the toothbrush around his or her mouth (also called brushing) to shoot a cavity-causing monster.
  • IoT: Samsung declared itself all-in on IoT, saying that all its devices will be IoT-ready and intelligent by 2020. Already, one billion connected Samsung devices are in use globally. Samsung also showed off its virtual assistant, Bixby. Among its capabilities is telling individual members of the family what’s in the fridge based on their eating preferences and presenting a personalized morning briefing given their schedule, the weather and news that interest them. Comcast was also big on IoT-supported services at CES, demonstrating a connected home system that can automatically lock your door, turn off your lights, and arm the home security system with the command, “Good night!”

Why interconnection is critical to all of it

Interconnection is the private data exchange between businesses, and it is an essential ingredient in emerging technologies like AI, VR/AR and IoT. That’s because it has several characteristics that companies in these spaces can’t do without.

First, private interconnection enables direct and secure connectivity, and that’s critical when information is flying between regions or continents. Direct connections are the fastest, most reliable and the most secure connections available. Interconnection also enables software-programmable, many-to-many connectivity, for greater flexibility and agility. Next, proximity is a priority to overcome the laws of physics. Latency is a killer for many of these digital technologies, and the only way to reduce latency is to shorten the distance between the players. Finally, interconnection is delivered via globally dispersed data exchange points at the edge.

It’s simple. Devices, clouds, business and digital ecosystems are all exchanging data at the edge – they all need interconnection that is close enough to each other and their users to fuel all these technologies and scale digital business.

Without interconnection, companies are stuck backhauling all their data between their users, partners and centralized, corporate data centers. In the other words, without interconnection, the future these technologies promised when they debuted those decades ago would still be distant, instead of right here, right now.

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