Nokia’s CTO Peter Green may be on indefinite leave, but he’s certainly leaving his responsibilities in capable hands. Nokia Research Center interim CTO Henry Tirri may be exactly what Nokia needs as it upends its world and plots a new strategy with Microsoft. As my colleague Michelle Maisto pointed out on this blog post, CEO Stephen Elop isn’t getting much from the Nokia old guard as he tries to implement a radical maker-over for the company (Unfiltered: Nokia CTO leaving just as things are getting good). I have no idea whether Tirri will be an â€˜Elop man’ in the CTO’s office. In fact, I hardly know Tirri at all. I’ve only had one interview with Tirri for a story I wrote in 2009 about the radical changes wireless technology would undergo in the next 15 years. Though it was only a one-hour interview, it was one of the more interesting interviews I’ve conducted in my 11 years covering this industry.
I spoke to Tirri specifically about mobile’s role in the semantic Web—how devices will stop being passive receivers of information and will start actively sensing and start actively creating and interpreting that information, the same way our senses and our brains record and process information today. Here’s the excerpt:
The Invisible Internet is associated closely with the concept of the “Internet of Things,” in which a multitude of everyday objects are connected wirelessly. In such a world, not every object will have the intelligence to make decisions for itself — your carton of milk doesn’t need an advanced processor, only the ability to communicate what it is and its expiration date — but collectively they’ll create a form of ambient intelligence, allowing them to self-organize as a group. If the Invisible Internet of Things does become a reality, the Web will cease to be merely a virtual space, where people interact with one another from behind a PC or phone’s screen, and become a real space — “meat space,” if you will — where thousands of objects, both personal and public, interact with one another.
The one element, besides a radio, all of those objects have in common is awareness. They have to be able to sense one another as well as their surroundings. Embedding devices and objects with that kind of sensitivity probably is the smallest challenge the Internet of Things faces right now, said Henry Tirri, head of the Nokia Research Center. The core sensors needed in the network of the future already are embedded in the average smartphone today: GPS and cellular triangulation sense location; accelerometers and digital compasses sense movement and direction; digital cameras can see for the devices. Some of those sensors need to be refined, but for the most part, devices already have access to enormous amounts of raw sensory data, Tirri said. The challenge for the industry is processing that data, interpreting it and combining it with data from other sensors to make it useful. Once the technology overcomes those problems, there’s no limit to what can be wirelessly enabled, he added.
“In today’s world of handsets, we talk in billions; in the future, we will talk about trillions of devices,” Tirri said. “Radios and sensors will be very small. They will be in everyday devices like coffeemakers and key chains, as well as all consumer devices, but also things you wouldn’t think you’d have wireless capabilities, like chairs, tables, even your bed.”
Unfortunately most of my interview with Tirri went unused for lack of space, but in the hour-long phone call I certainly learned enough about to Tirri to know he’s got some visionary ideas. Elop is trying to remake Nokia and restore its former glory as an innovator in handsets in mobile services. To do that, I can only assume, Elop will need some visionary thinkers to shape Nokia’s long-term technology strategy. He might have just such a thinker in Tirri.