The Economist’s report on smart systems

Earlier in the year The Economist did an impressive special report on Data Deluge.  This latest report – entitled ” It’s a smart world” – is about smart systems and sensors, and is just as good.  The magazine definitely has a handle on this aspect of technology, and it’s great to see.

The report covers a number of areas – the main players in the field, the benefits and the challenges involved. Cities are a focus – the initial impact is likely to be felt by urban intrastructure and traffic systems.  Particularly well covered is how instrumenting the world will change the nature of business.  An example: as sensors allow precise measurement of usage, then there will be less need to buy things – you can rent them instead and be charged only for what you have used.  Three main business effects are highlighted:

  • improved pricing and allocation of resources
  • a shift from physical goods to services (as in the example above)
  • data becomes a factor of production, in addition to land, labour and capital

The last two sections deal with the barriers that could slow down the implementation of smart systems, whether they be  institutional, bureaucratic, technological, legal, a lack of openness, a lack of understanding or a fear of intrusion of privacy.

In the past I thought that the one company that was all over this was IBM, but one benefit of reading this has been to highlight some of the other companies and groups also involved.  There are a number of other sources mentioned that are worth following up – don’t be too surprised if I return to some of them in the future.

• The Economist: It’s a smart world

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