THE BLOG

The Knowledge Economy and the Internet of Things

19/02/2014 15:17 GMT | Updated 20/04/2014 10:59 BST

There are two movements fundamentally changing the way we do things, use things and communicate with things. Both movements are new, disruptive and not yet widely adopted, but their opportunity and growth potential is huge.

The first is the internet of things. To early adopters, the internet of things is the future. A world where almost everything is controlled by a single personal device is no longer a fantasy, it is a reality. Objects that can both sense the environment and communicate are fast becoming tools for understanding complexity and responding to it quickly, automatically transferring data over a wireless network. While the smartphone is one of the original examples, it has been applied to everything from robotics to thermostats.

The second is collaborative consumption, or the sharing economy, which moves away from the individual ownership model and creates peer to peer marketplaces, sharing access to products and services. Collaborative consumption has been widely hailed as the new 'socio-economic big idea' revolutionising the way we consume. It balances personal self-interest with the good of the larger community, and at its heart is social good with trust as its currency.

But here's the interesting question. Can you combine the two movements into one super-movement, and what would happen if you did? Is collaborative consumption the next platform for the internet of things? The internet of things has so far largely been concentrated on evolving the personal computing space. If the same efficiency slide-rule were to be applied to us as collaborative individuals, does that make knowledge the ultimate collaborative commodity?

To some extent we are all ranked on what we know - that is the inherent nature of employment - but creating a direct marketplace that makes knowledge a tradable commodity is surely as disruptive as it comes. The concept is fairly simple. If you can create an economy around sharing your home (Airbnb), your car (Lyft, Zipcar), even your tasks (TaskRabbit), why not do the same with what you know. Why not create the knowledge economy? A kind of ebay for knowledge, where what people know is matched off against people who are looking for those skills or ideas - be that on a short or long term basis, domestically or professionally. The internet of things would both control that platform and make it accessible. There will be inevitable issues around trust and verification, but reputation capital is evolving so quickly that it is almost disruptive in itself.

Artificial intelligence goes some of the way but is tangential. Making computers think like humans bypasses the opportunity that lies in what humans already know. With efficiency and social good at its heart, commoditising knowledge would allow a better economic match between what people know and what others need to know and would be the ultimate extension of the sharing economy, facilitated by the internet of things.

This may all be unnecessary. Both movements are powerful and revolutionary enough to create real social change on their own, but as technology keeps evolving, there is a lot to be said for trying to combine the best of both worlds in order to keep a social angle at the core.