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New high-tech group wants to take us to cyberspace

Many believe that the Internet as we know it has not lived up to its potential, that we have, in fact, barely scratched the surface of its life-changing potential. Among those who believe this are some of the most important corporations with a direct interest in the future of the Internet: AT&T, Cisco, GE, Intel and IBM. This elite who’s who of high tech have now formed a non-profit group to study how to bring about the much-vaunted “Internet of things” which, the tech giants say, is still in its infancy. We are on the verge, they say, of an Industrial Internet Revolution.

The new group, called the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC). has for its goal “to accelerate the development and availability of intelligent, industrial automation for the public good.” In simpler language, the vision of the IIC according to AT&T includes enabling people “to operate anything remotely, anytime and virtually anywhere.”  For IBM, the IIC’s aims fit with its own “Smarter Planet”  vision, in which more of the physical world is connected with the Internet to create smarter cities and businesses.

To fully realize this goal of total connectedness, it must be possible for all devices and machines to communicate with each other. To that end, the consortium will tackle the issue of “open interoperability standards and common architectures.”

We are at the precipice of a major technological shift at the intersection of the cyber and physical worlds, one with broad implications that will lead to substantial benefits, not just for any one organization, but for humanity. Academia and industry understand the need to identify and establish new foundations, common frameworks and standards for the Industrial Internet, and are looking to the IIC to ensure that these efforts come together into a cohesive whole.

Janos Sztipanovits, Vanderbilt University

But what is “the industrial Internet”? The consortium defines it as “the integration of complex physical machinery and devices with networked sensors and software, used to predict and control and plan for better business and societal outcomes.” We have had glimpses of the world that will be, once this “natural successor to the Industrial Revolution and the Internet revolution” comes about—driverless cars, telemedicine, smart buildings, water and oil transmission pipelines embedded with sensors.

But as of now, according to a Cisco spokesman, “99 per cent of everything is still unconnected.” That leaves a lot of potential untapped, a lot of innovation not yet even dreamed of. Every industry, the IIC declares, will benefit from the industrial Internet. It sees industrial manufacturing, health care, energy, and the public sector as the most likely early adopters.

Though the consortium is non-profit, the world its members intend to bring about will not be. In a fact sheet that gives some background on the IIC and its intentions, General Electric predicts that the industrial Internet “could” add $10–$15 trillion to global GDP in the next two decades. Benefits include reduced operational costs, better operational efficiencies, less waste, higher productivity, better health care, better infrastructure, and better services.

The Industrial Internet Consortium’s stated objectives

  • Utilize existing and create new industry use cases and test beds for real-world applications
  • Deliver best practices, reference architectures, case studies, and standards requirements to ease deployment of connected technologies
  • Influence the global development standards process for internet and industrial systems
  • Facilitate open forums to share and exchange real-world ideas, practices, lessons, and insights
  • Build confidence around new and innovative approaches to security

 

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