If you have sent email on Google or used Microsoft’s browser or databases, you have touched the technology handiwork of Adam Bosworth.
Mr. Bosworth, a tall and grizzled but still trim 60-year-old, is a Johnny Appleseed of sorts in the tech industry, with a penchant for being intimately involved in the creation of generations of widely used technology.
While it is never easy to predict what the next big thing will be, identifying what Mr. Bosworth is working on is always good for clues. Right now, along with competitors at companies like Amazon and Google, he is building what some call a “data singularity.”
Imagine if almost everything — streets, car bumpers, doors, hydroelectric dams — had a tiny sensor. That is already happening through so-called Internet-of-Things projects run by big companies like General Electric and IBM.
All those devices and sensors would also wirelessly connect to far-off data centers, where millions of computer servers manage and learn from all that information.
Those servers would then send back commands to help whatever the sensors are connected to operate more effectively: A home automatically turns up the heat ahead of cold weather moving in, or streetlights behave differently when traffic gets bad. Or imagine an insurance company instantly resolving who has to pay for what an instant after a fender-bender because it has been automatically fed information about the accident.
Think of it as one, enormous process in which machines gather information, learn and change based on what they learn. All in seconds.
“I’m interested in affecting five billion people,” said Mr. Bosworth, a former star at Microsoft and Google who now makes interactive software at Salesforce.com, an online software company that runs sales for thousands of corporations. “We’re headed into one of those historic discontinuities where society changes.”
It is lofty language, no doubt, but he and others believe they are on the brink of one of the next big shifts in computing, perhaps as big as the web browser or the personal computer.
But building an automated system that can react to all that data like a thoughtful person is fiendishly hard — and that may be Mr. Bosworth’s last great challenge to solve.
It is difficult to say just how big this business could be, but there are two good indicators: Analysts at Gartner estimate that by 2019 retail cloud computing — the data center side of the equation Mr. Bosworth is working on — will double in size, to $314 billion. The sensors on objects will be a $2.6 trillion business, an increase of 250 percent, Gartner estimates.
Read more: Looking Beyond the Internet of Things
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