Changing Paradigms. Industry 4.0 - IV

Atoms may embed bits, and indeed more and more products are getting softwarized by embedding a chip with software that characterise the product features, or atoms may be connoted to bits that will provide an augmented reality to the object user.

4. Atoms and Bits

I used a few times the word “softwarization”. It is a word not recognised by my spelling checker but it would ring a bell to many marketing innovators people. Indeed, software is now embedded everywhere, wherever you have a chip, of course, there is software (in some form, may be just firmware in case of sensor chips…). But you also have software where there is no chip!

Think about a newspaper, the old ones, the one made of paper. Clearly there is no chip there, and yet, if you use a smartphone the camera of the smartphone will pick up the text, send it to a place in the web where an application will identify the phrase (if you manage to pick up a few lines in an article and you manage to contextualise it -the date of the newspaper and the type of newspaper- you basically have a 1 to 1 match) and on the screen of the cell phone you will see additional information overlaid on the newspaper text. A portable projector, embedded in the phone, would be able to project that information directly on the object. Hence, additional information, in principle, can be associated to any object and reshape the perception of the object (augmented reality). The Google Glass is obviously an additional way to overlay bits on atoms, without having to embed a chip in the object.

It is not just about augmented reality. It is also about ambient awareness. As we walk through an ambient, we can interact with it and get meaningful (appropriate, contextualised, personalised) feedback. We are also changing the ambient because we are there, we become part of it. Presence sensors (the ones that switch on the light as you get close to your door or step into the hallway) are gradually being transformed into person sensors, able to detect that person identity and react accordingly (actually, several of my friends have sensors that can tell their cat from another cat, blocking access to the latter…).

These technologic advances are more and more visible in our everyday life and they point to an evolution where the boundary between atoms and bits gets more and more fuzzy.

It is an evolution where software, in its various forms, characterises more and more our perception of value, and of innovation.

Author - Roberto Saracco

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