The "Internet of things" (IoT) is a growing topic of conversation not only in the workplace, but also amongst peers. The concept has the potential to affect the way we live and work massively. But what is the "Internet of things"? What impact will it have on you, if any? There are lots of complexities around the topic, but in this article – we’ll stick to the basics. There are many technical and policy-related conversations being had, but many of us are still trying to grasp the foundation of what all these conversations are actually about.
We need to start with understanding a few facts.
Broadband Internet has become more widely available, the cost of connecting it is ever decreasing, more devices are being created with Wi-Fi capabilities and built in sensors, technology costs are plummeting and smartphone use is sky-rocketing. All this is creating a "perfect storm" for the IoT.
So What Exactly Is The Internet Of Things?
It basically means that we will be able to connect any device with an on/off switch to the Internet as well as to each other. Everything from mobile phones, washing machines, coffee makers, lamps, headphones, wearable devices and almost absolutely anything else you could think of. It also applies to components of machines. For example a jet engine of an airplane or the drill of an oil rig. If it can be switched on and off then the chances are it can be a part of the IoT. The analyst firm Gartner says that by 2020 there will be more than 26 billion connected devices. Some even estimate this number to be much higher, over 100 billion. That’s a lot of connections. The IoT is a giant network of connected "things" - which could also include people.
How Will This Affect You?
The new rule for our future will be, "Anything that can be connected, will be connected." But why would we even want so many connected devices all communicating with each other? There are many examples for what this could look like and what the potential value in it might be. Say for example you’re on your way to a meeting; your car could have access to your calendar and know the best route to take before you’ve set foot inside. If there’s heavy traffic your car might send a text to the person you’re meeting notifying them that you’ll be late. What if your alarm clock goes off at 6 a.m. and then tells your coffee maker to have a cup ready when you get downstairs? What if your office equipment knew when you were running low on supplies and automatically ordered more?
On a broader scale, the IoT can be applied to things like transportation networks: "smart cities" which can help us reduce waste and improve efficiency for things such as energy use; thus helping us understand and improve how we work and live.
The IoT allows for practically endless opportunities and connections to take place, many of which we can't even think of or fully understand the impact of today. It's not hard to see how and why the IoT is such a hot topic for discussion. It certainly does open doors to a lot of prospects but also to many challenges. Security is a huge issue that is brought up often. With billions of devices being connected to each other, what can people do to make sure that their information is kept secure? Will your toaster become and easy target for hackers, thereby giving them access to your entire network? The IoT also opens up companies all over the world to greater security threats. Then we have the issue of data sharing and privacy. Another issue that many companies specifically are going to be faced with is around the massive amounts of data that all of these devices are going to produce. Companies will need to find a way to store, track, analyse and make sense of the vast amounts of data that will be generated.
So what now?
Conversations about the IoT have been taking place all over the world for many years, as we seek to understand how this will change our world. We’re also trying to understand what the many opportunities and challenges are going to be as more and more devices begin to join the IoT. For now the best thing that we can do is learn about what the IoT is and what it could mean for our lives.