Technologies evolve and connect through cycles of innovation, followed by cycles of convergence. We build towers of large vertical capabilities; eventually, these towers begin to sway, as they move beyond their original footprints. Finally, they come together and form unexpected—and strong—new structures. Before we dive into the Internet of Things, let’s look at a few other technological histories that followed this pattern.
It took more than 40 years to electrify the US, beginning in 1882 with Thomas Edison’s Pearl Street generating station. American rural electrification lagged behind Europe’s until spurred in 1935 by Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. Much time was spent getting the technology to work, understanding the legal and operational frameworks, training people to use it, training the public to use it, and working through the politics. It took decades to build an industry capable of mass deployment to consumers.
Building telephone networks to serve consumers’ homes took another 30 to 40 years. From the 1945 introduction of ENIAC, the first electronic computer, until the widespread availability of desktop computers took 40 years. Building the modern Internet took approximately 30 years.
In each case, adoption was slowed by the need to redesign existing processes. Steam-powered factories converted to electricity through the awkward and slow process of gradual replacement; when steam-powered machinery failed, electric machines were ...