Over the next 20 years, according to General Electric, the "Industrial Internet" – also known as the "Internet of Things" – could pump another $10 to $15 trillion into the world economy. That's trillion with a T, as in tera-.
Most of the media buzz about the Internet of Things is focused on consumer goods such as appliances, and ultimately on a "smart house." But GE is looking at devices from jet engines and power plant turbines to MRIs, and how to make them smarter as well. One sensor might report that a turbine is not needed, and can be shut down. Another sensor might report that a device is starting to draw slightly more power, and is ready for maintenance.
GE's comments on the impact of the Industrial Internet are, in part, a push-back against a recently fashionable view that the Internet has become primarily an entertainment and social medium, lacking the transformative impact of earlier industrial innovations from the railroad to electrification and the jet plane. But GE is also signaling to the technical community, regulators, and other parties to start planning for the requirements of an Industrial Internet.
The Industrial Internet will create jobs needing new skills. It will require new regulatory policies. It will require more sophisticated automation.
And it will call for more powerful analytics, and more robust security. The Industrial Internet is, in a way, all about analytics. How do you know whether a turbine can be shut down to save power – or should be taken offline for maintenance? As GE chief economist Marco Annunziata puts it, analytics provide the tools "to make sure the data that comes available can be used in a productive way."
The Industrial Internet will also require more robust security. Malware in today's Internet can steal or erase sensitive information. Malware in the Industrial Internet could trigger direct physical destruction, causing planes to crash or medical equipment to endanger patients. The Stuxnet worm, which ordered Iranian nuclear centrifuges to overspin themselves to destruction, gave a foretast of the possibilities.