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GeoWeb and the “Internet of Things”

In a recent trip to China, I discovered something of the direction of the national policy of that country towards the development of the Internet.  In a speech in Wuxi, the Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao spoke of the drive to build the “internet of things” and provided the interesting equation:

Internet + Internet of Things = Wisdom of the Earth


The parallels between this statement of policy and the GeoWeb are striking.  The GeoWeb has been viewed from a vareity of perspectives, a few of these are:

  1. As the integration of all business processes that deal with the physical world, i.e. that deal with our understanding of, and action in/on, the physical world.
  2. As a Web of interconnected documents that describe the physical world.
  3. As a Web of systems by which we control and manage our actions and interact with the physical world.
  4. As a planetary accounting system that helps us all understand the “state of things” at the local, regional, and global level – whether that be the state of arctic polar bear habitat, or that of crowding in the city of Mumbai.
  5. As a sort of Digital Nervous System for the planet that alerts us to changes in the state of our world.

While these specific visions were not outlined in Wen Jiabao’s speech, consider the following two examples from that speech.

Example 1: Intelligent Traffic Systems

Roughly translated:  A million cars idling for 10 minutes will consume some 140,000 litres of gasoline.  At the same time we have serious global problems with climate change and local problems with air pollution.  Why should this be the case?  The problem can be seen as one in which there is a lack of communication between the vehicles and the road. 

I interpret this to mean that the traffic systems should regulate the highways such that this condition does not take place, or takes place much less frequently.  One of the functions of Intelligent Traffic Systems would be to minimize the pollution generated by the use of the highway system.  Of course, he does not say how that might entail regulation of an individual’s actions but one can easily imagine the vehicle being told it cannot enter a particular section of the highway, or cannot even be taken out of the drive way.  What is key in Wen Jiabao’s remarks is that we can use technology to help us understand the consequences of individual actions, and the relationship between those actions and physical laws (“wisdom of the earth”).  We can choose to let a million vehicles idle on the highway, but in doing so we cannot avoid the consequences for air pollution, and for damage to our health and to the planet.  What an intelligent traffic system might do then, at the very least, is to make the linkage between actions and consequences visible to all of us, even if it does not yet constrain those actions.

Example 2: Human Perception – a jug of water – perception and inter-connectivity

Roughly translated:  We can associate two objects such as a person and a jug of water by placing one before the other.  This association, however, only has meaning as the person perceives some aspects of that jug of water, such as the water temperature, the amount of mineral content, or the presence of toxic or harmful substances.  It is these perceptions that give meaning to the association or connection between the person and the object.  This connection has then even greater meaning when this perception, this connection to the object, is shareable with others.

What this is saying is that we can use information technology to enhance our connection to things and to one another.  Sensors can measure the characteristics of things, and communicate those measurements to us, thus establishing a connection – a connection which is then shareable with others.

Generalizing from the jug of water, we can see sensing by objects on the Internet as a means of communication between humans and the physical world – to help us understand and connect to that world in a way not possible today.  One may even see in this a link to the idea of being in touch with the earth in an almost “spiritual” sense, such as might be found in aboriginal lore and teaching, but with the “being in touch” translated into what can be perceived.

These two examples, in my view,  strongly identify the “internet of things” with the GeoWeb.