Revolutionary evolution: The Internet of things and things to come
Dan Geer and Jerry Archer cast an eye to the future as technology and the Internet evolve, and pose questions about the implications for security and privacy
December 10, 2012 —
The digital world is evolution, per se — continuous, rapid, radical, and, by now, so pervasive that it is the Internet which is driving human evolution. It is the Internet which makes possible the future envisioned by genomics researcher Juan Enriquez, one where we choose what and who we are. It is the Internet which allows Intel Fellow Mark Bohr to foresee that "in the future, chips may become integrated directly with the brain, combining AI/human intelligence and dramatically enhancing our cognitive and learning abilities. ... lead[ing] to a "technological singularity" — a point in time when machine intelligence is evolving so rapidly that humans are left far, far behind." Is not the coming of the Internet a "butterfly effect," a change so profound that the world we know today simply disappears?
Cloud computing may very well be the flutter of that butterfly's wing, altering most everything we know, including ourselves. Noted philosopher Thomas Kuhn cast revolutionary changes as paradigm shifts, where "a paradigm shift [is] a mélange of sociology, enthusiasm and scientific promise, but not a logically determinate procedure," ergo the final outcome of such a change is beyond our ability to discern, and, like the "butterfly effect," can (and will) have vastly different outcomes whose "first cause" are but tiny differences at inception.
Santa Fe Institute professor of economics Brian Arthur says that when complex technology becomes transparent to its users, the complexity vanishes and it is then that those users assimilate the change. IE: it is then that revolutionary outcomes are possible.
This is happening all around us today in what seems every aspect of our life, just look around! Apple has sold 250+ million plus iPhones, 38 million in Q1 2012 and 5 million in the first weekend after introduction of the iPhone5. It is not too difficult remember when Apple fluttered the proverbial butterfly's wing with a simple, yet logical paradigm shift, evolving the iPod into the iPhone and thereby creating the smartphone, a profound change in technology and the way in which we touch the Internet — and, to the evolutionary point, how the Internet touches us.
Paleobiologist Stephen Jay Gould described evolution itself as "punctuated equilibria" — periods of stasis with little change beyond genetic drift ultimately broken by short periods of radical realignment across many species. The so-called "app store" is just such an example; a mutation in one species (vendor) that changed the selection (fitness) pressure on all species (vendors). Taking only Apple plus Android, the number of new applications greatly exceeds one thousand per day. The question for Gould, were he still alive, would be this: What is the evolutionary implication moving from rare punctuations of long-lived equilibria to constant punctuation of equilibria that are all but evanescent?