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The Global Hardware Platform
The concept of the global hardware platform was introduced in Cyber Business, the first book of my Future Trilogy published by John Wiley way back in 1995. The idea back then and still very much today is that the best way to think of all computers and network technologies is as a single interconnected global information technology infrastructure or computing machine.
Nobody in their right mind would ever purchase a telephone as anything other than a component of the global telecommunications network, and due to the fact that any particular handset is effectively useless without the existence of and possibility to connect to other phones. In the same way, most computers now rely for a great deal and potentially soon all of their value-added on an interconnectedness that effectively makes them cells of today's single computing machine.
From Personal Computing to Interpersonal Computing
Thinking of all individual computing devices parts of a single global hardware platform on which both our devices and ourselves increasingly depend is something that would have been ridiculous even a couple of decades ago. Early personal computers were just that -- personal -- and used as entirely stand alone hardware for individual activities such as word processing and single-player computer games. The public adoption of the Internet of course started to change that, as did the First and Second Digital Revolution as mass digitization and then mass atomization took hold.
Whether they are aware of it or not, both organizations and individuals now rely on the existence of the global hardware platform to allow them to conduct many of their daily processes and routines. For a start, both customer and worker organizational interfaces are increasingly moving online. Because of this, an increasing number of businesses and business activities are effectively transforming into digital services on which people click in largely the same manner that they launch computer programs. What this implies is that the global hardware platform is now not just a global computing and communications infrastructure, but in addition a single global business infrastructure of which no company of any scale can afford not to be a part.
As Internet Developments such as Web 2.0 take hold, so the global hardware platform is also becoming a global cultural and social infrastructure across which digital rich media now carry individual and national news, aspirations and emotions concerning all level of human activity. Whilst futurists in the 1990s may therefore have been wrong to proclaim that we would all by now be routinely working and spending leisure time in virtual reality, they were nevertheless correct to suggest that the majority of people in the developed nations would in the very early 21st century be spending a reasonable proportion of their time interacting with other people via cyberspace. And the global hardware platform is of course what allows such everyday cyberspace exchanges in Facebook and Twitter to take place.
An Infrastructure for Computing in the Clouds
Today, whilst the global hardware platform is used for most non-face-to-face human and organizational communications, the software, raw data and computer processing power that propels much of this communication still languishes on the desktop or in corporate IT server rooms. However, over the next decade this is likely to change due to the emergence of cloud computing. This will involve online "software as a service" (SaaS) tools replacing locally-installed software applications, user data being stored online, and computer processing power being purchased in "instances" from "infrastructure as a service" (IaaS) providers, currently including Amazon with its Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) web services offering.
The benefit of moving user applications, data and most processing power into the virtual computing cloud of the global hardware platform will be to make all such resources available to their users from any computing device. Personal (or more accurately interpersonal) computing devices will therefore be able to become less sophisticated, more reliable and cheaper "computing appliances" that will have to locally provide no more than an interface to online computing resources. As I type this I of course hear some naysayers screaming "but what if the Internet crashes!" However, as I hope to have demonstrated above, already both companies and individuals are so reliant technologically, organizationally and socially on the global hardware platform that this is largely a non-issue.
The Nervous System of Metaman
Within his groundbreaking 1993 book "Metaman", Gregory Stock invited us to consider the entire human species to be entering the next phase of its evolution as we interconnect into a highly-interdependent "global super-organism". Stock suggested that is was no longer viable to study humanity at the level of the individual or even nation, and with many future challenges clearly global in scale such a viewpoint seems eminently sensible. Stock also explained the idea of a "super-organism" of connected individuals by making a parallel with an ant colony whose collective activity is fairly easy to predict, even when the actions or fate of any individual ant are totally unpredictable.
As we all become parts of Stock's Metaman super-organism, so the global hardware platform -- initially a common technological infrastructure, but increasingly also a common social, cultural and organizational net -- already constitutes the nervous system, the arteries and the veins of our collective self. As artificial intelligences emerge to share our planet and the Fourth Discontinuity is crossed, so the global hardware platform is also destined to become the digital realm in which some of our co-residents of Planet Earth will also soon live.
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