Talk. Talk. Talk… All Blah!
As we discuss collaboration among human and non-human entities, let us understand the evolution of the non-human entity a bit more.
A quick scan of Wikipedia reveals:
The word “corporation” derives from corpus, the Latin word for body, or a “body of people”. By the time of Justinian (reigned 527–565), Roman law recognized a range of corporate entities under the names universitas, corpus or collegium. These included the state itself (the Populus Romanus), municipalities, and such private associations as sponsors of a religious cult, burial clubs, political groups, and guilds of craftsmen or traders. Such bodies commonly had the right to own property and make contracts, to receive gifts and legacies, to sue and be sued, and, in general, to perform legal acts through representatives. Private associations were granted designated privileges and liberties by the emperor
Going further back, it is widely accepted that private corporations (separate from individuals) were also in existence during the days of the Mauryan empire (320 to 300 BCE) of Chandragupta and Chanakya!
Thus, a non-human entity has possibly been a part of human society for around 2400 years! And surely, this entity has been interacting with both humans and other non-human entities for at least as long!
Now, let us look at the evolution of communication and collaboration protocols among these entities.
It is safe to believe that any interaction that was necessary between such entities would largely have been done through human representatives through face-to-face conversations and also through the written word. Scrolls/letters and finance would have been carried by humans and delivered to humans, who were not within speaking and touching distance.
A rudimentary postal system can be traced to the early 1500s and was reasonably well established by the 1650s across the world. The next quantum jump in communication technology can thought to be the wire-telegraph based on Samuel Morse’s work in the 1840s. By the 1860s, a fully functional trans-Atlantic cable is laid. Multiplexing- the ability to send multiple signals at the same time- is a reality by 1915, making wired communication much more efficient. Wireless communication also evolves in the same time frame and trans-continental telephony is in place by 1920. By 1960 telex is a reality.
All this communication still requires some ‘human’ starting the process, and another being at the receiving end to ‘get’ the message.
It is in 1965 that Trans-Atlantic Shipping manifests sent by Holland-American Steamship line using telex, are first converted to tape and loaded onto computers. Even though there is a human as the recipient, the ultimate recipient is a machine or ‘system’. This is a new revolution in communication. Now, this story gathers steam and there is rapid evolution in ‘communication protocol’. In 1973, FTP (File Transfer Protocol) is established and in 1975 the Transportation Data Coordinating Committee (TDCC) releases the first EDI standards. In the same year, the first VAN telenet is established.
EDI can be thought of as the first real ‘system to system’ communication mechanism and this opens up the world of collaborative commerce. This rapidly gains ground and by 1985, the EDIFACT EDI standard is established.
While EDI remains an incredibly effective and popular system-to-system collaboration mechanism, the ‘next big thing’ in this is the evolution of the API-based systemic interface mechanism as technology service providers start to architect their products to collaborate in this manner via secure transmission of data over the internet.
Meanwhile, the ‘person-to-person’ communication also evolves to include additional channels such as email (which becomes commonly available starting from the mid-1990s) and social-media (WhatsApp from the 2010s).
Businesses also start to exploit these channels and create a new communication paradigm of ‘system to person’- where the originator of the message is a machine and the recipient is an individual.
This is encapsulated in the figure below:
Having gotten this overview, we are better positioned to understand how these protocols have been adopted across the Transportation and Logistics World, and what some of the resultant problems have been.