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No matter which way you look at it, the Internet of Things (IoT) still has a very long way to go. In fact, if you take a step back and look at it without all of the vendor hype, it's not even entirely clear what exactly it's going to look like. 

The Pew Research Center has tried to remedy that with recent research, interviewing more than 1,600 experts about their visions for the IoT. The result is a fascinating look into not just the shape and form it will take, but also some considerable insight into what technology we will be using in the future. Google Glass, it seems, is only the beginning.

Widespread, Benefical Effects

By general consensus, the IoT will:

  • Provide a global environment that uses smart sensors, cameras, software, databases and massive data centers
  • Offer “augmented reality” enhancements using real world input from portable technologies
  • Disrupt business models established in the 20th century
  • Tag, analyze and "database" information from the real world

According to Pew, the research -- which was carried out to mark the 25th anniversary of the Internet -- was designed to figure out whether or not the Internet of Things will have "widespread and beneficial effects" on the everyday lives of the public by 2025.

The results: 83 percent of respondents said "yes." Asked to elaborate on their responses, six recurring themes emerged: 

Wearable devices

All agreed there would be considerable progress in the development and adoption of the IoT over the coming decade, and that more objects, appliances, cars and other parts of the environment will be connected.

According to Salesforce’s chief scientist JP Rangaswami, who is cited in the research, not only will more devices become connected, but the quality of information the devices send will improve, taking the guesswork out of capacity planning and decision making.

He also suggests that ideas of privacy and sharing will continue to evolve with new trade-offs between privacy and convenience. These trade-offs will have to be understood and accepted before the IoT can begin to provide better services.

Privacy and control

Many contributors expressed concerns about privacy and questioned how much personal information people would be willing to give up for enhanced customer experiences.

Justin Reich, a fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, said the IoT:

It will have widespread beneficial effects, along with widespread negative effects. There will be conveniences and privacy violations. There will be new ways for people to connect, as well as new pathways towards isolation, misanthropy, and depression. I’m not sure that moving computers from people’s pockets (smartphones) to people’s hands or face will have the same level of impact that the smartphone has had.”

Others expressed concern that perpetual engagement with the web combined with perpetual feedback will create a whole new bunch of social problems.

In this respect, quite a number of respondents said that it will be necessary to find ways for people to be able to disengage from the network -- to stop being a node that constantly sends and receives data.

Information interfaces

Human to computer interaction was a major consideration for some, although many were lukewarm about the prospect of developing a brain to computer interface. However, better sensors, more advanced machine learning algorithms and better understanding of human to computer capabilities will result in gesture and speech recognition that will greatly enhance the human ability to do work while mobile.

Paul Jones, a professor at the University of North Carolina and founder of ibiblio.org, even suggested we may arrive at a point where body movements will evolve into commands in an “augmented life extension.” This may not be in the cards for 2025, but may certainly be a reality in the years after.

Complexity issues

If you think keeping your technical devices in good operating condition is difficult now, wait until the IoT takes hold. Many of those surveyed by Pew believe that things are only slated to get worse with the IoT. Many, in fact, said that such a large interconnected network will be too large to maintain and develop in a constructive direction. 

According to Jerry Michalski, founder of the Relationship Economy eXpedition (REX), most of the devices exposed on the Internet will be vulnerable and open to abuse in ways that were not conceivable before the Web, let alone the IoT, was developed. As an example, he suggests trying to use speech recognition technology in a crowded room.

Unconnected inequality

According to Pew, the IoT will raise the spectre of technology haves and have nots. One contributor argued that the rise of IoT will create its own expectations, and that "successful" living will require being equipped with pricey technology.

Those that do not have the material ability to connect to the IoT, and those that are just not interested, will become increasingly invisible and possibly seen as people who do not have a full life -- perhaps even as "less than full humans." 

People Clouds

Individual and organizational responses to the Internet of Things will recast the relationships people have with each other and with groups of all kinds. However, Doc Searl, the director of ProjectVRM at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society says that in the future, everything will have a cloud of its own.

He also points out that not everything will have on board intelligence, or will be connected to the Net all the time. People’s Clouds of Things can be as personal and private as their houses (and, when encrypted, even more so).

IoT Skeptics

These are only some of the things that this group of experts pointed to for the IoT in the next decade. While it all looks very positive, it should be noted that the research also identified a large number of people that are skeptical about the IoT and the impact it will have on the future.

According to Bill St. Arnaud, a self employed green Internet consultant who was canvassed in the research, a lot of talk about the IoT is hype:

The Internet of Things has been in the red zone of the hypometer for over a decade now. Yes, there will be many niche applications, but it will not be the next big thing, as many pundits predict. If the Internet of Things had any true validity, you would think you would start to see evidence of its presence on early adopter Internet networks."

Karl Fogel was equally direct pointing out that wearable tech has a long way to go before it’s acceptable:

No, yuck, we don’t need this, and most people aren’t asking for it. I’ve never been quite clear on where the demand is supposedly coming from. The scarce resource will continue to be human attention. There is a limit to the usefulness of devices that are worn in public but that demand attention because it is often socially and practically unacceptable to give those devices enough attention to make them worth the trouble."

In the end it's looking like this Pew's research, like many others before it, doesn’t come any closer to nailing down what the IoT will be . And just like before, there are dozens of questions that need to be answered before companies start down what could be a road to nowhere.  

Title image by Paolo Bona / Shutterstock.