There's no question, we're at an inflection point in the digitization of our world. In every domain and dimension, the substitution of digital for analog is racing ahead.
A couple recent examples illustrate the power of this trend.
- Over the weekend, The New York Times carried a long piece on the new wave of faster, more nimble robots transforming manufacturing. The sotto voce theme of the article: Manufacturing may be about to explode in productivity, but employment in the sector may be decimated. These robots are capable of much more agile interaction with the environment and can now be applied to areas where previously only humans had the deftness to do detailed work.
- The arrival of self-driving cars is definitely on the horizon. I was driving along the freeway last week and saw the car below in the next lane. While many discussions of self-driving cars have focused on potential drawbacks-How will they respond to confusing environments like busy city streets? How will liability be assigned when no human is driving?-the benefits are quite obvious. I expect that there will be rapid transformation of our notion of auto transportation over the next decade.
Seeing a driverless car on the freeway makes the author realize that the future is coming faster than any of us can comprehend.
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The underlying impetus of these examples is that computing is breaking free of the data center and is being distributed throughout the environment. A corollary to this driver is the enormous amount of data that is being generated by this new world-so much, of course, that the term "big data" has been coined to describe the general phenomena of both the cascade of information bits and the solutions that have been created to analyze them.
Of course, another term that reflects a different aspect of this transformation is cloud computing-the movement of computing from corporate data centers to, well, somewhere else. The growth of the computing capacity of the large cloud service providers is remarkable, with every week bringing yet another mega-data center announcement.
My sense is that this trend is moving much more rapidly than anyone recognizes, and that organizations are embedding cloud computing and big data into their environments quite quickly. The scale of the adoption, though, is going unremarked because the efforts are being implemented on a piecemeal basis. Individually, they are interesting; in aggregate, they are remarkable.
One of the biggest challenges of this transformation, in my view, is the outstripping of the IT capabilities necessary to manage this new environment. Essentially, manual procedures are confronting a world too massive to manage the old way and, much like Lucille Ball and the chocolate factory, they are being overrun by scale. (Just to be clear, this is not an IT jeremiad. Rather, it is a questioning of our current solutions to a new scale of challenge.)
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