CNBC's documentary, airing Wednesday night, explores our increasingly tech-dependent, interconnected world. Does it offer any insight for CIOs?
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On Wednesday night CNBC will air "Rise of the Machines," an hour-long exploration of the coming era of interconnected everything.
Should CIOs across America tune in? This jaded journalist saw the GE logo at the show's start, indicating sponsorship, and got a sinking feeling. GE is one of the major proponents of the value of connected things.
But of course, "sponsor" does not mean necessarily mean "scripter." The show's title evokes "Terminator 3," and the host Melissa Lee, a veteran CNBC journalist, tries to keep it from being part of GE's mythmaking.
She even scores a few good points against the interconnected world. Her best cautionary tale comes as we watch the creator of the Shodan search engine, which searches the Internet for open IP addresses, call up nursing home Web cams and start flipping switches on open home automation systems. People say nasty things on social media; just imagine what they could do to the connected, unprotected house.
But as with almost everything tech, the "gee-whizzery" of it all creates a wow effect that's hard to blunt. Using analytics to prevent premature babies from getting sick? Miraculous! Technology that prevents heart attacks? Incredible! A sensor-driven early warning system that saves Brazilian slum dwellers from catastrophe? Awesome! Lee ends up saying "yes, but…" and it often falls flat.
While the show doesn't cite many specific company names, it documents pet projects of GE, IBM, Cisco and other big tech vendors. But these aren't demonstration projects -- almost everything we see involves deployed technology that consumers and companies can buy now. Lee talks to both the developers who made the tech happen and the users it affects.
The show comprises five main segments: Connected Healthcare, the Connected Self, the Connected Vehicle, the Connected City and the Connected Train. After the intro, we see a premature baby fighting for life and learn that 20% of premature babies develop often-lethal infections seemingly without warning -- despite the fact that they are monitored in a way that creates 1,200 points of data each second and 90 million points per day. A top researcher has figured out a way to use that data to show when infections will happen, allowing doctors to save more of these babies.
The Connected Self follows several people who track data on themselves. Thirty million wireless trackers were sold in 2012, equal to 10% of the U.S. population. If that number increases, think about what people will know about themselves -- and what they might choose to share. Will my sons swap data with friends as part of their handshakes? Will their cheesy pickup lines involve vital signs?
Of course, the biosensors that let us constantly gauge ourselves are completely invasive -- but they have clear utility. And they feel somewhat less creepy than the 200 sensors in the smart house Lee visits, or the guy in San Francisco whose house has its own Twitter feed, spouting things like "There's movement in the house. Is it you?" This guy must make great company at dinner.
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