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The future is all about connections - and their speed is accelerating

The interconnectivity of all things:
4 minute read
The interconnectivity of all things: Shutterstock

Progress is a non-linear phenomenon, and it is the connections that are made between different technologies that can really accelerate the rate of change.

Progress doesn’t happen in a smooth, straight line. When you think about it, you wouldn’t expect it to; there’s no law of the universe that says a scientific breakthrough must occur at precisely six-day intervals. Instead, we see breakthroughs irregularly. There’s a word for that; it’s “stochastic.” The stock markets and most economic indicators are stochastic. It doesn’t mean the same as random. It means “seemingly random in the short term but showing discernible trends in the longer term.”

You can see how that applies to technology. Over the last seventy years, the big breakthroughs (transistors, integrated circuits, microprocessors, the PC, Mobile, AI, etc) have all emerged when they were ready to, not according to some universal metronome.

And yet, when you plot progress according to some easily measurable metric, there’s often a clearly defined trend, and the shape of that line is typically exponential. Simply put, it means that (let’s take computers) processing power vs cost improves according to a multiple, not an addition. To put it another way, the rate of progress is increasing all the time.

This might, and should, all sound familiar because of Moore’s law, which isn’t a law but an observation that has been so consistently accurate that it feels like a “law.” Another (related to Moore’s law) trend is how camera sensors have improved over the last fifteen years. Resolutions (determined by the number of pixels) have progressed from SD to HD to 4K to 8K and beyond. That’s an eighty-five-fold improvement in a decade and a half.

But Moore’s law isn’t responsible for every dramatic technological leap. Sometimes, the most significant breakthroughs are the simplest and most prosaic.


In 1983, MIDI burst onto the scene with Yamaha’s seminal DX7 synthesizer. What was intended as a simple way to connect digital instruments together (and so reliable you could use it live on stage) spawned a prolific period in music technology that led to software sequencers (later to become DAWs - Digital Audio Workstations) that captured musical performances on a computer. Today, over forty years later, MIDI is still current and flourishing, with few modifications. It is now the default musical note transfer, recording, and processing protocol. You can think of it as an enabler. It broke barriers and allowed previously unconnected technologies to mingle and merge to create a much bigger whole. It was like a beneficial dam bursting.

There’s another example you might have heard of HTML. Before the advent of Hyper Text Markup Language, the nascent internet was arcane - the intriguing but snarky habitat of developers and academic university research departments. HTML and its public-facing manifestation, the World Wide Web, changed everything. It did so by enforcing a simple but effective standard for web page layout and hypertext links. It wasn’t an application you loaded on your computer but ran within a browser - which is an application, that provides, in a sense, a virtual machine to run web pages in. HTML introduced new concepts that have proven to be transformative, including massively successful standardization. Every device with a web browser can display virtually any web page and a practical way to run a virtual machine on laptops, workstations, tablets, and smartphones.

Look beyond the obvious functionality, and you realize that running software in a browser means that developers can write apps that have no idea what sort of device they’ll be running on. Compare that with the pre-internet, pre-Windows/macOS days when every word processing program installed its own printer drivers for your specific computer. Today, in contrast, you can run fully-fledged video editing applications in a browser. What you lose in sheer performance, you gain in flexibility.

A trio of technologies

The prospect of massive gains in functionality through standardization and interconnectivity is now becoming hyper-important because of three technologies, two of which you’ve probably heard of and one that takes a bit of explanation: The cloud, AI, and APIs (including Microservices).

Let’s start with the cloud, and we’ll finish with AI. To keep things brief, the cloud is essentially the internet with storage and processing. It is everywhere (that has an internet connection) and is infinitely scalable, often in near real-time. Need more computing power? Just tick a box. Need more storage? Just say how much. Crucially, if you need less computing or storage, just do it. It is genuinely ubiquitous, elastic computing.

APIs are like the MIDI of software but immensely more powerful, and they apply to both hardware and software. An API (Application Programming Interface) provides a friendly gateway into the functionality of software or hardware (in the case of hardware, there must be software involved).

To use a current example, the game-changing capabilities of Chat GPT have been made available to external developers through APIs. To make use of GPT’s powers, you don’t have to understand how it works. Instead, you can choose from a menu of services. APIs are well-documented; if you follow the rules, you’ll get the desired results. You can easily incorporate a third party’s capabilities into your own product. Another example: Sony provides an SDK (Software Development Kit), which allows developers to use APIs built into its camera control software. It gives access to most of a camera's functions and controls. It also allows you to lock the camera controls to avoid mistakes when they’re in use.

Cloud-native software can have APIs as well. There’s a trend towards providing everything with an API. At this point, they’re called “Microservices.” Part of the definition of a microservice is that if it does more than one thing, it’s not a microservice. You can think of microservices as atoms of software – with APIs. 

Putting it all together

That’s enough tech talk. What does it all mean?

It means that the easier it is for technical services and devices to talk to each other, the greater the sum of their combined capability. That’s much more profound than it seems.

Back to the cloud for a minute. It’s an environment that seems to break down barriers, including commercial ones.

No single company has a monopoly on innovation. So, it makes incredibly good sense for even competing companies to work together to build more capable systems where each company provides elements to the overall solution. APIs are transformative but think about what could happen when you have AI able to choose services (or microservices) and connect them to build the most effective system possible.

This is as frightening as it is exciting. You’d need plenty of regulation (or “guardrails”). But you can imagine an AI system building almost anything you can imagine by connecting technologies via their APIs. This will lead to hyper-exponential growth, and it will be so fast that new applications will surprise us in their scope and functionality. We will lose the ability to predict what will happen next - or ever, for that matter.

What we need to keep the world of tech within the rails - and by that, I mean aligned with the reasonable goals and aspirations of humankind - is to have reasonable and moderate people in charge. Right now, that seems to be a distant prospect.

Tags: Technology