What if Infrastructure had Moore’s Law?

By: Barbara Humpton, CEO, Siemens USA

For #BigIdeas2019, I’ve been asking myself: What if infrastructure had Moore’s Law?  What would our cities, industries and built environment look like 3, 5 or 10 years from now if our physical world started evolving as quickly as our digital one?


Moore’s Law was created by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore in 1965 to forecast that “computing would dramatically increase in power … at an exponential pace.”


In fact, three years ago, on Moore’s Law’s 50th anniversary – as it was acknowledged that Moore’s theory had amazingly held true – a rather interesting comparison was made to a 1971 Volkswagen Beetle.  If the Beetle had evolved as quickly as the microchip, get this: today it would go 300,000 miles per hour … get two million miles per gallon of gas … and cost only four cents.


This comparison illustrates the degree to which “revolution” deservedly follows “digital” in our world today. Yet the story of digital technology applied to infrastructure has played out differently.


It’s true that the physical world – from our factories to our cities – is comprised of significantly more software and digital technology than it was a decade ago. It’s true as well that the companies making real things and engineering our world’s built environment – from energy companies to building owners – are increasingly incorporating data analytics into business models.


Yet with infrastructure, the influence of software, data and emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence has so far been an evolution, not a revolution.


This is about to change. Revolution – a Fourth Industrial Revolution, to be precise – is now coming to infrastructure.  The wheels will start spinning faster in 2019, and here’s why: the connectivity networking Information Technology is now coming to Operational Technology.  In 2019 we’ll continue unlocking the potential of what I call the Internet of Really Big Things.


The physical world is increasingly comprised of sensors capturing data.  We’re now providing cities, for example, with software tools that help decisionmakers analyze the data coming from these sensors to inform their infrastructure decisions – particularly how to reduce emissions and improve air quality.


Now, city leaders can take the next step: In addition to analyzing data sets, they can leverage cloud platforms to bring together all of the data produced citywide.  Then they can use operating systems specifically developed for the Internet of Really Big Things to manage the operational technology integral to city infrastructure – factories, buildings, energy, healthcare, mobility, you name it – like never before.


Imagine humans in the loop thinking differently, making better decisions, doing things that would have been impossible in an analog world.  Imagine automation deployed in new, amazing ways.


Now, will we ever have cars going 300,000 MPH? Of course not! Yet that’s not even the point.


Picture the long highway trips I’m sure many of you reading this experienced over the holidays.  Would a top speed of 300,000 MPH have really helped all that much in gridlock traffic?


As we focus on how to improve our road infrastructure, there’s more to the goal than going faster or reducing how long it takes to get from Point A to Point B. The goal should be to improve the experience and outcomes both to our health and the environment.


With connected, autonomous vehicles, for example, cars will travel more closely together and won’t break unnecessarily, dramatically increasing road capacity without changing them structurally.  You’ll merge onto the roadway; your vehicle will find its place in the traffic flow; you will proceed safely – and without stress – to your destination.


That’s just one example of how a city leveraging the Internet of Really Big Things is on a path to do really big things too.  Moore’s Law-like progress can come to the physical world in the sense that connectivity can rapidly improve how infrastructure performs.


There’s no telling all the ways we can improve our own lives or spur progress for future generations.  But I sure look forward to finding out more in 2019 and changing the world in the years to come.