The rise of the Internet of Things

Lawrence Jones

Monday 29 August 2016

For the last decade we’re been sold the dream of the Internet of Things (IoT) – a seamless, constant and intelligent communication between man, animal and machine. As the technology finally catches up to aspiration, are we now entering the age of the Internet of Things?

Only coined in 1999, the term ‘Internet of Things’ seems to have been around forever in tech circles, but it’s only now that we’re entering an age where the promise and the benefits of constant connectivity are being realised.

Simplistically, the internet of things is a scenario where objects, animals or people all have a unique identifier (UID) and have the ability to transfer data over a network without the need for human or machine interaction.

The possibilities of such connections are potentially unlimited, with society benefiting from the improved efficiency and accuracy of connected devices. There are also obvious economic and business benefits too. But before we get too excited, there are still some questions that need to be answered technologically, ethically and morally.

It’s always difficult to predict too far into the future, particularly when dealing with technology, but we explore what the rise of the internet of things means to you and your business – and just why it may not be plain sailing to a constantly connected future.

Constant connection

There are already twice as many connected devices in the world than there are people, but it’s growing all the time. Estimates vary, but a recent report published by Juniper Research, that by 2020 there will be between 30 – 50 billion connected devices in the world.

It sounds a lot, but the potential for the internet of things is limitless, with enough IP addresses for trillions of devices. Businesses are already salivating at the prospect. These new connections bring exciting new opportunities for marketers, enabling them to tap into almost every aspect of our lives to offer us ways to spend money.

A sensor in your car could indicate you’re running low on fuel, and almost immediately an advert for a fuel station appears on your in-car screen for instance. In this case technology is solving a problem, offering a chance for targeted marketing and making your life easier.

It’s not just as consumers that could benefit, the internet of things could also change the way we work, too says Mike Weston, CEO of Profusion, a data science consultancy with bases in London and Dubai specialising in helping organisations understand and improve their relationships with people through technology. “There are a great number of interesting applications from monitoring and improving employee welfare and productivity to training and information purposes.” He believes.

Solving a problem

The best technology – the laptop, tablet, smartphone and now, the smartwatch – should integrate seamlessly with the way we live, solving problems and making things easier. In some cases though, it’s not always clear just how these innovations can improve our lives.

“It seems a new ‘smart’ product is released every day. Unfortunately many of these devices don’t have a practical day-to-day application that consumers desperately want.” Weston adds. “I think we will see the market consolidate with many devices and concepts falling by the wayside.”

The IoT has to embody the best of technology but more importantly it needs to be based around the needs of users rather than those of manufacturers, marketers or employees.

Working together

The IoT is stimulating a whole new range of exciting and innovative devices. But this innovation is being hampered by one of the things that has plagued the tech world for years: interoperability.

In their paper, Juniper Research point to a lack of standardisation across the internet of things, causing problems for businesses and users. Before the IoT reaches its full potential it’s likely we’ll see the emergence of at least some form of standard, as Weston outlines: “Standardisation simplifies the market and reduces costs for consumers and manufacturers. It also provides an element of future-proofing.”

Universal formats like USB and smartphone chargers have taken time to become adopted, and so a universal standard may be some way off, but it’s likely to be an essential component in the IoT becoming embedded in the fabric of our lives and reaching its full potential. We’re yet to know just where it comes from and who will create it.

Question of ethics

The internet of things generates huge amounts of data, much of which we may consider innocuous. But where there is data there is risk. It’s no surprise that managing and protecting big data is one of the biggest challenges of the success of the IoT.

The challenges faced – those of data capture, violations of privacy and trust – are familiar to those in the industry, and can be managed. The IoT also raises some specific ethical questions that may not be as simple to deal with.

The data generated by the IoT has the possibility of creating an almost complete picture of us as individuals, families and even societies. Are we happy for this information to be shared and, if so, with whom?

It’s a question that we will all have different responses to. As a society we are becoming more aware of our online security, a situation likely to be exacerbated by the personal and potentially intrusive nature of constantly connected technology.

The rise of the Internet of Things is seemingly unstoppable, and is a technological advancement that will have benefits for us all. While there are some ethical concerns, history has shown that, where technology offers us a demonstrable improvement to our lives, it’s something we are likely to embrace.

There are likely to be some bumps in the road, but it’s all taking us further toward a constantly connected future that we can all enjoy and benefit from.

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