The first doctor to champion hand-washing was beaten to death

Image for post
Image for post

In 1846, large numbers of women and babies were dying during childbirth in Vienna. …


Image for post
Image for post

All our lives, people have been telling us we are just one catastrophe away from annihilation. Climate change is today’s most common concern, but overpopulation, nuclear war, pandemics, and the rise of artificial intelligence are also popular. Whatever the cause, the hypothesis is always the same: some disaster will lead to an irreversible collapse of civilization quickly followed by the extinction of humanity.

These apocalyptic fears have less to do with the rise of robots, sea levels, or global temperatures than we might imagine. Every generation has believed the end of the world is nigh. Fear of apocalypse is innate and primal, a bit like fear of snakes. The number of stories we tell about the end of the world increases not with risk but with population: there is always about one apocalyptic prediction for every hundred million people on the planet. 15 widely-publicized, specific extinction dates came and went in the nineteenth century, another 59 passed in the twentieth century, and the twenty-first century is on track for at least 84. There are also thousands of fictional accounts. The first apocalyptic novel was published in 1268, the first apocalyptic movie in 1916, and the first apocalyptic video game in 1988. As soon as we invent a new medium, we use it to tell tales about the end of the world. All these apocalyptic predictions and stories trigger our primal fear and make a big impression: worldwide, 14 percent of people think the world will end in their lifetime. …


Image for post
Image for post

How do new things come to be? Creations are neither miracles nor magic, but the consequence of many small, often meandering, steps. Sometimes creators head in one direction only to become lost or reach a dead end, yet — if they continue to hope — they still end up somewhere interesting.

All this is true of my work on the Internet of Things.

I may even be wrong about that. I think I came up with the name while working on a PowerPoint presentation at Procter & Gamble in the spring of 1999. But I was working with many visionaries at the time, and it may be that one of them said it first, and it later reappeared in my mind, a borrowed thought disguised as an original one. No one has ever claimed as much, and I suppose they would have done so by now, but it is possible nonetheless. I am certainly not some heroic individual contributor. Creation never happens that way. Every movie has a poster highlighting a handful of names — a few stars and co-stars, the director, perhaps a producer or writer — and every movie has end credits, where hundreds or thousands of other names appear. The poster shows creation’s myth: this was made by a few. The end credits show creation’s truth: this was made by many. All creations are like this, but only movies have end credits; for everything else, a few people get all the attention. The Internet of Things is the same: I may be on the poster…

About

Kevin Ashton

Called a thing the Internet of Things. Wrote How to Fly a Horse—The Secret History of Creation, Invention, and Discovery, available at http://amzn.to/1llqnbc

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store