TechRepublic has been discussing the merits and pitfalls of cloud computing, big data, and the Internet of Things for many years now. Those technologies have, and will continue to have, a profound impact on how enterprises interact with their customers, vendors, and stakeholders. But Microsoft believes there is something beyond even those technological innovations that enterprises should know about and understand.

SEE: AI and the Future of Business (ZDNet special feature)

Invisible revolution

Harry Shum, executive vice president in charge of Microsoft’s Technology and Research division, discusses a concept he calls the invisible revolution. This quote sums up the idea the best:

“We are on the cusp of creating a world in which technology is increasingly pervasive but is also increasingly invisible.”

Gradually, the devices, gadgets, and apps we used to depend on have become services we depend on. For example, we don’t need a specialized device to tune to a specific channel to watch a particular television show at scheduled time anymore. We can see that content on many devices, often whenever and wherever we want, without worrying about whether we can tune to that channel or if it is the right time.

But Shum sees us moving us beyond even that bit of invisible technology. With the advent of commonplace artificial intelligence, he believes the invisible revolution is just getting started. Our gadgets, devices, machines, and especially the cloud, are going to know everything there is to know about us and how we live our everyday lives.

Armed with that knowledge and the benefits of machine learning, our technological tools will be able to predict what we need to know, see, hear, eat, etc., before we actually know it ourselves. Our lives will be better, more productive, more efficient because invisible machines will solve our mundane problems for us.

Personally, I think that is a load of hogwash.


At first blush, these utopian ideas sound great, but reality soon takes over. I am not willing to open up my entire existence to any machine, artificial intelligence, or enterprise. And I think many feel the same way.

While I may find the Microsoft or Apple or Android ecosystem useful to work with, I do not want any of them knowing every intimate detail about me just so the cloud can compute when I’ll next be hungry. And when the cloud knows when I’ll be hungry, what will it do? Will it order me breakfast? Will it remind me about the McDonald’s Dollar Menu because that is what it was paid it to do?

SEE: Who really owns your Internet of Things data?

This is where business enterprises of all kinds are going to have to come to grips with reality. Of course knowing your customers, vendors, and stakeholders is important to your success. But for most people, there are limits to what personal data they are willing to share. Finding the balance between useful information and too much information is going to be the key for businesses trying to take advantage of big data and the cloud.

And so far, we have not even considered the security ramifications of storing all of this personal data. Our gadgets are asking us to share increasingly sensitive data for what appears to be benevolent reasons. But in the wrong hands, that data could also be used for malevolent purposes.

SEE: Why the Internet of Things is the next target for ransomware

Bottom line

While we may indeed be on the cusp of an invisible revolution, the transformation is likely to be long and arduous, with many twists and turns. Revolutions, even when we limit them to technology, tend to be messy. Business enterprises, which typically operate in a slower and more methodical manner than early adopter individuals, should be well-served by that measured pace when it comes to the “invisible revolution.”

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Your thoughts

How much personal information are you willing to share with your gadgets? Do you worry that you have already shared too much?