i3 | February 08, 2018

The Future of Standardization Begins Now

Veronica A. Lancaster
Uber helicopter

This year at CES, the latest tech was on display in Marketplaces dedicated to artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality, robotics, smart home, and self-driving vehicles. Sensor technology and the popularity of wearables has driven innovative growth beyond fitness tracking to health and wellness, sleep, sports, and baby tech. There’s even pet tech for consumers that are as crazy about their pets as I am. And even though I’m not yet flying to work like George Jetson, maybe it’s not that far away. Uber just announced a partnership with NASA to develop flying taxis, which could start demos in the Los Angeles area as early as 2020.

Technology coming to market is turning science fiction into reality. I carry two smartphones, I’m streaming the audio I want to hear when I want to hear it and I’m having my virtual assistant help manage my house hands-free, including having my groceries delivered after being sourced from local farmers. And I can work from home, or really anywhere. We are hyperconnected. I couldn’t do this back in 2000.

Our smartphones have the processing power that only NASA supercomputers had in the late 1960s. As the speed of breakthroughs accelerates, the time to think about standardization for emerging tech is now.

When you say “standards,” visions of old engineers taking years to reach agreement generally scares younger generations. The need to evolve the way we think about standards in order to be relevant to a younger generation led to new ways of thinking about them, leading to internet standards groups like the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF).

In IETF, individual participants contribute to final documents (RFCs) that are published online. No formal membership is required — just understanding and agreement on the rules of participation. Then came “open source standards, which allow engineers to also work and contribute to standardization via the internet, allowing for increased creativity in a less structured environment. A company can create an extension or subset of an open standard, not the word-for-word version of the published language.

Some Standards Developing Organizations (SDOs) keep with the traditional “Robert’s Rules” and still work on new technology efficiently. They shouldn’t be discounted. In fact, SDOs that are developing American National Standards agree to meet the specifi c requirements for openness, balance and the review and maintenance of standards, where some non-traditional developers might not have the same principles.

Where Do We Start to Standardize? 

 Some obvious places are technologies like 5G, cybersecurity, autonomous systems, robotics, virtual agents and artificial intelligence. Some of this happens organically as technology evolves — think about how streaming content or binge watching changed the traditional broadcasting and programming model. 

Creating standards in the early stages of emerging tech can help grow an industry sector by providing the opportunity for consistency and interoperability as that sector matures. It also provides the ability for experts to talk through scenarios before they become problems. Amazon recommends things I might be interested in based on my habits. Pandora has figured out my musical “moods” and recommends new music I’ll like. And I’m not sure how I lived without Alexa before. We need to have conversations about common factors as these emerging technologies converge, and educate the next generation of innovators and creators that “standards” is not the “S” word. 

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