The Promise Of The Internet Of Things

Christopher Putvinski

Back in 1978, the great science fiction writer Isaac Asimov stated, “I do not fear computers. I fear the lack of them.”

It’s an interesting and optimistic perspective coming from the late 1970s—a time when computers were far from common. But Asimov, who passed away in 1992, was a visionary. He was, after all, the person responsible for the enduring I, Robot.

So I doubt he would be completely surprised by our technological progress today. Certainly we’ve made significant advancements since the ‘70s. For instance, our cellphones have more computing power than all of NASA did when it put two men on the moon in 1969. And the little chips inside those annoying cards that play “Happy Birthday” are more powerful than all the computing power the Allied Forces had available during World War II.

Still, I think there is one unique fact today that would surprise him: We’re now entering an era even more impressive than that of ubiquitous computers—an era in which everyday appliances like bike locks, vacuum cleaner, and lights are themselves turning into computers. And these computers are seamlessly talking among themselves, and in turn talking back to us.

This is the era of the Internet of Things (IoT)—and it promises to change our lives completely.

The concept IoT is relatively straightforward: It describes things that are embedded with sensors and connected to the Internet, producing and making sense of vast amounts of data. Think cars, scales, refrigerators, stereos, thermostats, buildings, and medical devices that produce, transfer, and process data in real time. In terms of what’s applicable, no answer is seemingly wrong. Daniel Burrus, writing in Wired, even offers the example of “smart cement.”

However, IoT is still a relatively new concept; only in 2013 did it begin to gain some traction, and its popularity has exploded since then. It is predicted that 24 million IoT devices will be connected to the Internet by 2020—in addition to another 10 billion traditional devices such as smartphones and smartwatches.

The popularity of IoT is due to its applicability, but also because of its promise. In this Shots of Awe episode, Jason Silva offers a nice summary of how it’ll impact us:

You walk into a room, and the room knows how you like the lighting. And the song that you love starts automatically playing. And the curtains automatically rise. And the computer offers you your favorite snack.

Of course, IoT technology will not be limited to just our homes. IoT will impact entire cities. Traffic, pollution, and even crime may become things of the past. Consider something as common as a lamppost, embedded with an air-quality sensor that alerts you if a certain area is particularly polluted.

And think about the potential IoT holds for healthcare: You wake up each morning, look into the mirror, and it provides a real-time update on your health, updating your doctor with any concerns.

These are just a few of the promises of IoT. If we get it right——that is, if we plan carefully and keep security in mind—we can expect greater efficiency and economic growth. In short, we can expect a vast improvement to our everyday lives.

I can’t say what Asimov would have thought of IoT. But based on his depictions in I, Robot of humans and robots working together peacefully, I imagine he would have greeted this development with open arms.

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