from Hardware and Software to Devices and Information

I help run a hardware accelerator in Ithaca, NY where we help teams of inventors develop their concepts for connected devices. So many devices are connected these days and many more will be connected in the near future (Moore’s law applies here).

I spend a lot of time thinking about how to navigate this near future.

Simplifying the language we use to describe big shifts in technology and markets is an important part of navigating this shift. “From Hardware and Software to Devices and Information” is a phrase pulled from the book Trillions: Thriving in the Emerging Information Ecology by McManus and Ballay. In the book, the authors describe the current technology landscape, predict what is coming, and offer some thoughts on how we need to design differently.

They argue that we need a more human-centered approach to design and I agree with them. And language is a great starting point to get on that path. “Hardware and Software” are terms that mean something to engineers. But “Devices and Information” is language that is meaningful to the public. With the latter phrase we can look back to the beginning of human-made information, painted on the walls of caves tens of thousands of years ago.

Infomation became mobile 5000 years ago when the Sumerians carved language into stone tablets and even more mobile with Gutenberg’s press 500 years ago. We all know the story – about 30 years ago the internet made information even more mobile. It also made it easier to create information – more people could create and distribute stories than ever before. You no longer needed access to a factory press and a fleet of delivery trucks to put your information out into the world.

But what will happen when information is created and distributed not just by humans, but by trillions of connected devices gathering data throughout the world. The big questions in my mind are 1. How will we, as inventors, design systems that help us turn this information into knowledge and wisdom? and 2. What are the habits and assumptions in our current approach to designing technology that have to change?

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