Cisco foresees connected devices, pervasive sensing and big data will drive need for data scientists to bring order to information overload.
Big Data's Surprising Uses:
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If you haven't given much thought to how society will function a century from now, you might want to start. According to Cisco's Dave Evans, human life expectancy could approach 300 years within the next several decades.
That prediction was one of many made by Evans, Cisco's chief futurist, and Guido Jouret, the company's CTO of emerging technologies, during a conversation with reporters last week in San Francisco. The discussion touched on subjects ranging from lifespan longevity gains to an anticipated proliferation of wearable technology to the question of whether online education can match the social experience of traditional classrooms.
The biggest theme driving the prognostications, though, echoed what Intel CTO Justin Rattner recently shared with InformationWeek: an avalanche of information will become available as everyday devices are equipped with sophisticated sensors and connected to the growing Internet of Things.
Given Cisco's heritage, it's not surprising that the speakers defined this phenomenon at the network level."'We see the Internet of Things as a subset of the Internet of Everything," said Evans, referring to the company's current marketing campaign. "Without the connection between things, arguably their value is significantly diminished." Those connections will no doubt include some next-generation designs that are beyond predicting, but many, Evans and Jouret suggested, will stem from upgrades to existing products.
"The marginal incremental cost to adding connecting or computing power is getting smaller and smaller. Even if you don't know what you're doing with it today, you add it," Jouret said. Based on GDP statistics, Cisco estimates that more than 1.5 trillion existing devices have the potential to be connected to the Internet. "We -- people -- will become nodes on the network," Evans said.
Evans predicted that common bathroom mirrors will be able to give basic medical exams by measuring one's pupil dilation, skin temperature, pulse and blood pressure. Such mirrors, he explained, will be only one example of a host of tools that constantly measure a user's physical condition. The aggregate effect of these products -- which he said would also include pills that have built-in radios and sensors but less metal than the average bowl of cereal -- will be a more complete picture of an individual's unique biology, with data collected continuously rather than during 15-minute checkups once or twice per year. Evan foresees that doctors equipped with better data will be more empowered to both detect problems early and personalize treatment options.
Jouret said this information will merge with other expected advances, such as the ability to sequence one's genome in a single afternoon or the ability to create replacement organs with 3D printing, to help human lifespans extend to multiple centuries.
Healthcare isn't the only industry expected to benefit from all this information. Jouret and Evans also emphasized strides made in our ability to extract actionable data from images. "Moore's Law also impacts video," Jouret said, explaining that increased pixel counts in security cameras allow retailers to not only monitor their stores but also collect demographics information about customers, assess the effectiveness of advertising displays and even dynamically adjust the number of open registers based on how many cars are in nearby parking lots.
One can already see the influence of such forecasts on Cisco's recent strategies. The company's interest in mining data from customer location and generating revenue from existing Wi-Fi infrastructure, for example, represents a first foray into some of the fields Evans and Jouret discussed. As such tactics become widespread, and as developing technologies replace existing occupations in much the same way industrialization eliminated many manual labor jobs, the pair expects that data scientists will become highly coveted. All the raw information flowing through the Internet of Everything, in other words, will be useful only if researchers develop the tools to find order in the chaos.
Jouret predicted that whatever new careers emerge in coming years, job seekers will need good levels of education. "[Tasks] that require brute force -- even precision brute force -- will not last for long," he said.
Jouret also pointed out that security will be an ongoing challenge as new technologies gain traction. On the one hand, he said, security through obscurity is not acceptable, as connected devices can be hacked and abused. On the other hand, Jouret wondered whether users will be able to understand the implications of all the data being gathered about them, noting that he finds European privacy and disclosure laws superior to those in the U.S.
Despite these and other growing pains, Jouret and Evans agreed that companies will be motivated to find solutions. "The economics of connectivity are very compelling," Jouret said.
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