Mike Hoskins, by his own account, has been starting and running software companies for nearly 35 years. The chief technical officer of Pervasive Software, an Austin, Texas, provider of data management and analytics products, Hoskins has lived through several technology eras -- including the big iron, enterprise-focused 1970s, the rise of software tycoons in the 80s, and the Internet boom of the 90s.
So what's next? An era that Hoskins calls the "age of data ubiquity," one in which a new generation of nimble, data-centric apps exploit massive data sets generated by both enterprises and consumers.
"What we're seeing right now is the end of the era of software. Hardware had its 20- to 30-year run. Software had its 20- to 30-year run," said Hoskins in a phone interview with InformationWeek.
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"The data ubiquity challenge brings out more of the dimensions of big data, because it's not just about these huge, fat pipes that giant companies have," Hoskins noted. "It's the fact that data is central to all of our existences, whether we're a giant enterprise or an individual person."
The rise of mobile applications is a good example of this trend. "They are very thin skins representing some data asset behind the scenes," Hoskins said.
The era of data ubiquity poses a new set of challenges to software developers, however. "The Internet has caused a Cambrian explosion of new life forms, new applications, new data-centric APIs," Hoskins noted. "Literally thousands and thousands of new APIs are born every month."
This proliferation of data sources, and the explosion of user data they generate, could "break the back" of today's software industry. "It's not just one pipe with an enormous data feed coming out of my transaction database," Hoskins said.
Sensor data, in fact, may pose the greatest challenge.
"We are instrumenting the universe," said Hoskins, referring to what's often called the Internet of Things.
"Your old refrigerator was a dumb refrigerator. Your new refrigerator is a smart refrigerator," he said. "It's a digital asset aware of itself. It records time, temperatures, vibrations. It records the electricity it's consuming. It's connected to the Internet as an IP device."
And this process of digitizing the world's physical objects may prove the defining element of the age of data. "All the objects in the world are going to become alive and Internet-connected in a way that they weren't before," said Hoskins.
In addition to the connected devices we use today -- smartphones, tablets, PCs and very soon wristwatches -- sensors attached to or embedded in other physical objects will generate data as well.
"The plant in my house is going to be instrumented, and it's going to tell me when it's dry and needs to be watered," predicted Hoskins. "And maybe it will be able to turn on the sprinkler when it knows it's thirsty and needs water."
Of course, there's a dystopian element to this view of an instrumented physical world, particularly one that involves sensor-enabled humans.
"We are going to have instruments built into ourselves," Hoskins predicted. "When we walk into a hospital, we're going to be self-identified, and they're going to know us."
Too creepy and Orwellian for your tastes? Well, Hoskins argues that one of big data's best attributes is that it can improve humans' decision-making abilities. "Would I like to know an hour before I have a heart attack that I'm going to have a heart attack? Of course I would," he said. "For thousands of years, decisions have largely been the province of human experts who were not that expert in some cases, and who relied on their emotions and intuition."
In the future, however, mountains of data crunched by advanced algorithms will enable us to make timelier and more accurate decisions, Hoskins predicted.
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