This month Fox will debut its "Minority Report" TV series, an adaptation of the 1956 science fiction short story by Philip K. Dick and Steven Spielberg's 2002 film adaptation that starred Tom Cruise as Chief of PreCrime John Anderton. I hope this series is a success, not just for its action, but also for its potential to influence the future of technology, if it is as visionary as Spielberg's film was.
If you have the chance to see the 2002 film again, you will notice that almost all the futuristic technology gadgets in the movie have become real consumer products in the 13 years since, from curved transparent screens (e.g. Samsung), navigation with hand movements (e.g. Microsoft Kinect) to context-personalized advertising that follows you around (e.g. Internet Ads), let alone the emergence of driverless cars (e.g. Google).
However, I wish to focus on one particular aspect that "The Minority Report" relies on: the realization of the "Internet of Things". This is a concept, first coined by British entrepreneur Kevin Ashton in 1999, where all 'things' in our real world (far beyond laptops and mobile devices) are connected and where these 'things' can communicate to the internet and to each other, which allows for new services that are not possible without it. In short, Internet of Things makes any basic device into a 'smart' device, not unlike Apple iOS and Google Android turned basic mobile phones into 'smart' phones.
One of the best existing examples of 'Internet of Things' is NEST, a home thermostat (ordinarily a rather basic device) that can now be controlled remotely over WiFi and uses sensors to learn your temperature preferences and then adjusts your thermostat dynamically to the most cost efficient setting at all times (which turns it into a very 'smart' device). Another successful example is the OnStar system, that turns an entire General Motors car into a smart device. For instance, the OnStar device has sensors that detect automatically when a serious accident occurs and then immediately calls emergency services, which can be critical when you are trapped and cannot reach your mobile phone.
All that said, I would like to expand the 'Internet of Things' by including 'Things' (in particular products) that haven't yet been made (i.e. Virtual). I'd suggest to call this additional group the 'Internet of Virtual Things'. This opens up Kevin Ashton's original concept up to an area where I and many others have worked for the last 15 years: virtual prototyping (VP), 3D product visualization (3D Vis) and product lifecycle management (PLM). Yet, "Internet of Virtual Things" will turn these sectors completely on their head, just like the internet has already done with music, publishing and retail.
What do I mean? Imagine that an independent fashion designer sketches an idea for a new shirt and adds a #uniqueshirt tag to it and drops it in the "Internet of Virtual Things". From now on #uniqueshirt can connect and communicate with the internet and all relevant devices and services that it needs to grow into a real #uniqueshirt product. These services and devices can automatically find and communicate with #uniqueshirt and are neither necessarily owned by one company nor controlled by humans. The Internet services that may find and help #uniqueshirt are focused on market research, design, manufacturing, marketing, advertising, logistics, retail and customer service. For instance, a market research service may run a test to find out how popular #uniqueshirt will be with certain demographics and report the results back to #uniqueshirt. #Uniqueshirt's popularity in a particular demographic may trigger an Internet Finance service to sign up #uniqueshirt automatocally for a credit line so that it can go into production. Once #uniqueshirt has secured financing, it may be noticed by Internet Manufacturing services that sign up #uniqueshirt automatically for production of its first 100,000 units. Next it will be picked up by Logistics, Marketing and Retail services, until the real product is purchased and delivered to actual consumers. The journey was successfully made in small steps, where specific Internet connected services found #uniqueshirt and offered it its services, leading to other services finding it next.
This would create a far more efficient and dynamic Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) workflow in a device-to-device connected world where Chief John Anderton would feel right at home.