When Hardware Meets Software

In the Internet of Things, what’s old is new, and what’s new happens much faster.

When most of us first caught up with the Internet, it seemed like a magical door to a virtual reality played out in the infinite reaches of cyberspace. Today, it seems as though everyone is talking about the Internet in terms of its ability to get things done in the physical world of meat and machinery. We hear people talking about the Internet of Things, the Industrial Internet, and the Internet of Everything.

Is the Internet a wonderful rabbit hole into the infinite mind of the cosmos or the unsexy front end of a new industrial age? As Al Pacino puts it so eloquently in The Godfather Part III, “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.”

For those of us in the trenches of the Internet counterrevolution, the apparent shift in interest from virtual to physical benefits translates to a blurring of the boundaries between software and hardware. In a global economy driven by consumer technologies, software developers need to think more like product designers and product designers need to think more like software developers.

Until relatively recently, there was no bright-line demarcation between “hardware people” and “software people.” Techies were techies, and everyone who was interested in electronics learned how to read a circuit diagram and use a soldering iron.

The rise of programmable computers spawned a new kind of techie—the software engineer. Each twist and turn ...

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