photo representing 2014 Solid conference

The Solid conference is a deeper exploration of what’s being called the Internet of Things (IoT) or, more recently, the Internet of Things and Humans (IoTH).

I spent a couple of days at the Solid Conference. The event was sponsored by OReilly Publishing, the company that defines and shapes the future by arming its customers with technical info and insight. About 1,500 people were in attendance.

That seemed like a lot. Looking closely, the audience was directly descended from earlier San Francisco audiences. The scent of gold was in the air. Bright eyed entrepreneurs, investors and lookie-loos clamored for a look at the latest idea. For reference purposes, 1,500 people is not quite enough to call it a movement. But, it’s bigger than most conferences by a factor of 2 or 3.

The renaissance of American manufacturing was on display. Robots, sensors of all types, 3D printing (teleporters), maker movement electronics and lots of little hardware Startups were in the expo hall. In chinos and a button down shirt, I was overdressed.

The crowd was composed of the kinds of people who think big and do stuff. Hardware Startups are the new black in Silicon Valley. The hunt for funding was intense on both sides of the aisle.

Solid is a deeper exploration of what’s being called the Internet of Things (IoT) or, more recently, the Internet of Things and Humans (IoTH). Computing is beginning its full scale move to the insides of everything. The conference is exactly what the beginning of something looks like.

The demo floor won big points for its shiny new toy quality. It’s getting better and better to be a thing. If you are a thing, the future is bright. You will be smarter and know more.

The larger questions, Why?,  Is it a good idea? What makes a good thing? What are things supposed to do? What do we want to learn? are in shorter supply. The question “why?” always takes a backseat to “How?” and “When?” in these sorts of settings.

One of the questions that ought to be asked is “What is the nature of our relationship with things and how can that be improved?” Most of the demos boiled down to ‘meet my robot’ “watch me make a thing that does a trick” or “here’s a thing that makes things”. There was not much room for the big picture.

That bigger picture is an internet of things that serve people and expand their capabilities.  Along the way, technology is accelerating and changing at a pace that tests the limits of vision. Somehow, we are going to have to learn to maintain vision in the face of a flood of new interesting things. It’s possible (and maybe likely) that we will build a disconnected universe of things that ought to go together. A clear view of the big picture is what will keep us oriented.

Interestingly, enterprise work, collaborative tools, and other parts of adult work in the Information Age were missing in action. In its current state, IoT is the path by which computing really leaves the desktop. It’s still very early.

Today, we can 3D print the thing. It could be food, a spare part or the engine for the new Space Ex spaceship.

Tomorrow, we will have to wrestle with the workflow that precedes telling the machine to print. Design, testing, quality, consensus, approval and a host of other organizational processes lay between the idea and the emergence of the thing. It’s still to early to expect much help.

But, until the Internet of Things understands its place in the organization, it will remain a set of high potential parlor tricks.

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