A tech oriented vision of the future is rapidly becoming reality. Alarm clocks can turn on your coffee pot and adjust the thermostat. Your doorbell can notify you at work via your cellphone and send you an image of the plumber ready to work on your plugged drains so that you can remotely open the door for him. Production line factory machines can order more materials or request maintenance automatically. Tiny devices monitor medical conditions and remotely report to medical practitioners. The notion of a network of smart devices has been discussed since at least 1991. Kevin Ashton, working in a MIT research consortium, proposed the term “Internet of Things” in 1999 to describe a system “where the Internet is connected to the physical world via ubiquitous sensors.”
Broadband internet has become widespread, the cost of connecting is diminishing, more intelligent devices with sensors and native Wi-Fi capabilities are available, and smart phone proliferation is sky-rocketing. All of these things have combined to create a “perfect storm” for the IoT. By next year, not only will three quarters of the world’s population have access to the internet, but so will some six billion devices. IoT will surpass the sum of PC, tablet & phone markets by 2017. Industry analysts predict that there will be from 25 billion to over 100 billion connected devices by 2020.. The upside potential seems limitless – the current internet addressing scheme provides for 340 trillion trillion trillion unique addresses!
Development to date has been highly proprietary. Small cottage industries are being acquired or overwhelmed by industry giants at a rapid pace. Intel, GE, Cisco, Apple, Microsoft and Google are developing major projects for the IoT. Without open standards or open communication protocols, devices on the network do not yet readily share data or work in concert. One area of cooperation is “mesh networking”, wherein devices hand off messages to adjacent devices until the desired target recipient or internet access is accessed.
The potential benefits of the Internet of Things are mind-boggling. The potential for mistakes is equally impressive. Privacy advocates have serious concerns about the growing opportunity for monitoring individual activities and interests. Even now, problems have arisen. For example, baby monitors have been successfully taken over by outsiders. Imagine the opportunities offered by compromising an insulin pump or an implanted defibrillator.
While the burgeoning Internet of Things may not be looking to exterminate mankind as envisioned in the “Terminator” films anytime soon, that doesn’t mean there won’t be some major challenges or missteps with this technology. Perhaps it might be wise to consider just how smart and well connected your next major appliance actually is. Even if it doesn’t seem particularly bright, perhaps it would be advisable to treat it gently and kindly – just in case.