Besides our complex environmental challenges, businesses are entering a new Age of Connectivity. The technology of connection, while baffling at times, is easier to foresee than the human changes they might entail. The engineers of network growth are ebullient indeed. A recent forecast suggests that in only four years, by 2016:
- The planet’s 7.3 billion people will have 10 billion mobile devices
- Smart phone data traffic will grow by 50X
- Tablet data traffic will grow by 62X
- About 71% of all traffic will be video, the coming medium
- We’ll have full access to all this flying in airplanes.
Like all other advances, however, this one comes with caveats. One is whether human relationships will bloom or shrivel if they are filtered through virtual media devices. Already, marketers complain of hitting the capacity limits of human eyeball time and attention. Driving while distracted is illegal in many locales.
Of course, an increase of 50X or more in traffic will use a lot more servers “in the cloud,” and servers need energy. According to Jon Koomey, servers now use about 1.5% of the U.S. total electrical load. How much will they require in four more years? Even with Moore’s Law and smart server management software softening the punch, this is an emerging problem.
Aware that computing has significant costs, both in dollars and to the environment, IT companies are moving to reduce resource use in computing. They are tailoring more systems to customer requirements and using the latest generation systems before hardware and software is sent to customers. They are building more efficient data centers, aware that the lifetime energy costs of a data center today are typically 150% of its initial capital cost. Companies have to collaborate more to pull this off.
We think of connectivity as human, but perhaps the big growth will be in non-human automated devices. For example, Google vehicles that have now driven themselves thousands of miles use control systems that process an order of magnitude or more sensory data than prior self-driving cars – an example of Big Data processing in real time. Our human bandwidth limits communication capacity among people, but no technical limit yet appears to be a show-stopper for communication among devices.
It remains to be seen whether technical connectivity will improve human collaboration to improve quality of life while using a lot less. Mere linkages do not assure this. People that hate each other can phone each other or spew invective on web pages. Real advance on human conflicts remains very much a human problem.