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6 Things to Know About the Internet of Things

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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, 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.


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