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Hackernoon logoNo Such Thing As The Intelligent Edge by@daniel-sexton

No Such Thing As The Intelligent Edge

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@daniel-sextonDaniel Sexton

soccer dad, technologist

But it will be much bigger than the Internet. 

On Tuesday, July 27, 1869, the naturalist and glaciologist, John Muir, made an interesting observation in his journal :

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”

Pause and consider this for a moment.

Even within narrower contexts, this is true. Technologies, for instance, are inextricable from solutions. 

Technologies can be defined as discrete elements though, even if they are bound to other things. Buzzwords, on the other hand, often aren’t well defined or discrete.

For instance, a salesman recently said to me, “We’re doing 5G AI. “

Well… with that in mind consider these technologies: 

  • Smart Devices
  • Edge Artificial Intelligence (“AI”) & Machine Learning
  • AI Chips
  • 5G
  • IoT
  • Edge computing
  • Blockchain
  • Edge and Micro Data Centers
  • Narrowband IoT (NBIoT)
  • Multi-Access Edge Computing (MEC)
  • Modular Edge Data Centers

These are some common technologies associated with the Intelligent Edge. Each has had a separate path to now, each lives within its own life-cycle, but each is connected to every other one and, in fact, to everything in some way.

Interestingly, Muir had made a similar observation earlier (according to Stephen Fox in his book) which seems strangely relevant to Edge technologies: 

“When we try to pick out anything by itself we find that it is bound fast by a thousand invisible cords that cannot be broken, to everything in the universe.”


credit: Lorenzo Castagnone

The Edge

The Edge is the decentralized physical location where computing resources are being moved. In general, it can refer to devices or to infrastructure resources.

Over the past five decades, computing architectures have favored either centralized or decentralized approaches. Mainframes with text terminals, Unix servers, and thin clients found favor in eras of centralized computing. Fat clients, personal computers, and Java applets were popular in times of decentralized computing. 

Today, the cloud as a centralized core dominates the computing topology. Cloud has had a big impact on applications, business models, and businesses. 

The pendulum, however, is about to swing. As massive and pervasive as hyperscale cloud has become, the Edge will become far larger and more influential. 

The Edge does not replace centralized cloud computing though; it is a complement to it. 

Today, we do almost all of our edge computing with our mobile devices. But, as you will soon discover, this is going to change dramatically.

The Edge is growing fast. Edge market projections already far outstrip Cloud. The Internet of Things (“IoT”) market alone, which is only a subset of the Edge, is projected to be between $442 billion and $1.2 trillion by 2022 (depending on how you define IoT) and is growing at 29.4% per year — roughly double the size and growth of the global Cloud market. 

Edge AI, AI chips, 5G, Edge infrastructure, Edge computing, new sensors and devices, and Edge data management will all be massive, growing markets over the next decade.


Yet, market projections alone do not capture the essence of what the Edge will become. 

The Edge will change how we live and how businesses operate. It is certain to disrupt not only markets and but our lives in unexpected ways. Unlike past technological revolutions —  the printing press, electric power, telephones, cars, planes, optical lenses, televisions, PCs, electric power —  the Edge interacts with us and learns. It creates an ever-present feedback loop that will change and influence our behaviors.

The Edge will become a pervasive, mostly invisible, ever-present (and inescapable?) intelligent UX. That much is clear. What this UX will be interfacing with and how sophisticated that may become is anyone’s guess.

So, to me, ”Edge” is a misnomer. It is the Edge only with respect to centralized computing systems such as the cloud or enterprise data centers. 

Yet the Edge is everywhere. It is where people, and, in fact, the whole physical world, unites with the digital world. The Edge landscape includes our homes, bodies, farms, transportation systems, apparel, stores, factories, cities, parks, buildings, hospitals, sports facilities, outer space, and unlimited other places and spaces, people and things, living and not. Soon, the Edge will be at the center of our lives.

The Intelligent Edge

The Intelligent Edge combines advancements in Edge computing with emerging complementary technologies — AI, machine learning algorithms, smart devices, Edge data centers and networks — to provide value right at the point of interaction.

The Intelligent Edge is a set of technologies across the technology stack that is related to moving AI and other forms of interactive computing to physical locations. Intelligent Edge solutions provide a number of key benefits over traditional cloud solutions which include: 

  • Improved local interactivity; this includes the number of communications and interactions between devices and other devices, and between devices and users or machines
  • Handling large volumes of complex data;
  • Reduced latency and lower bandwidth requirements; 
  • Lower cost; 
  • Reduced data duplication, data storage, and transmission redundancy; 
  • Improved reliability; 
  • Facilitates compliance with laws regarding data transmission and storage;
  • Improved privacy and security; 
  • Increasingly autonomous features and systems

These features will work together to make the Intelligent Edge a transformational technology.

Below is an example of a life-cycle map (from my soon-to-be book) that illustrates how certain Edge technologies are evolving. Note that each technology is at a different level of maturity and adoption, and it is moving at different speeds along its life-cycle. 

There is no need to understand what each of these technologies is. The purpose of this chart in this context is to show that any particular Intelligent Edge solution lives in an evolving ecosystem of technologies at different stages of maturity. And that planning any initiative requires anticipating how Edge technologies are likely to evolve and how fast.

As such, the Intelligent Edge is not a thing, but a set of changing and evolving technological processes that are moving computing into all aspects of our everyday lives. 

Now is a time when computers and AI don’t yet interact freely with us in all aspects of life. 

We live in the pre-Edge era where most computer input is accomplished tediously with our fingers pecking away at screens and boards. Sooner than you may think, this interaction will become more or less invisible.

Evidence of the lack of Edge technologies will be what later generations notice about our time; just as we notice what’s lacking in pictures of cities in the 1890s with horses and buggies, or of families in the 1930s gathered around vacuum-tube radios. But the change the Edge will facilitate will be far more striking.

Traffic, transportation, modern housing, financial instruments, restaurants, exchange, money, education, buildings, city designs, healthcare, food supply, social interaction, and a multitude of other things will be altered directly by Intelligent Edge applications.

But it’s the second-order effects that will matter most. Such effects can lead to unanticipated outcomes. Even a fairly linear technology has helped create the world’s largest company:

‘It was easy to predict mass car ownership but hard to predict Walmart.” -Carl Sagan 

How do you think the Intelligent Edge will change the world? 

I would love to hear from you (feel free to connect). 

If you liked this article, please clap! 

If you would like to learn more about the Intelligent Edge, download a free copy of my soon-to-be book. I would love to hear your thoughts, corrections, and suggestions. Do you have an interesting Edge story to tell? Please contact me. I’m conducting interviews to include in the book.

Cheers! Daniel

Daniel is a Founding Partner at RedChip Ventures. Dan has over 15 years of experience leading large-scale, technology solutions for Fortune 500 companies. In addition, he has worked with a number of tech startups both as a founder and advisor.

Prior to founding RedChip Ventures, Dan was a Managing Partner at a private investment fund for 6 years where he helped lead and manage investments in technology and product companies.


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