The internet is one of the most important and transformative technologies ever invented. It has changed almost every aspect of our lives - how we work, think, educate and entertain ourselves. Adapting and being ready to take hold of its advantages are changing the pace at which countries, industries, companies and organisations progress and develop. The Internet of People changed the world. Well, there’s a new internet that has been emerging, and it’s poised to change the world again. This new internet is not just about connecting people, it’s about connecting things, it’s exciting, it’s a game changer and it’s called the Internet of Things.
Heard of the ‘Internet of Things’?
The Internet of Things (IoT) is a pretty broad concept overall. It’s the name given to the interconnection of everyday devices like cell phones and headphones to home appliances to automobiles with built-in sensors all the way up to biochip transponders in farm animals and heart monitoring implants in humans. Essentially, it is the way that machines communicate with each other in order to improve automation and efficiency in daily tasks. Now, this may be a surprise to some of us but the IoT is not even close to a new concept though it didn’t receive its name until 1999. The first internet appliance was actually a Coca-Cola vending machine that grad students at Carnegie-Mellon’s Computer Science Department connected to the internet back in 1982. Now though we have advanced by leaps and bounds since the 1980’s, the IoT is actually still pretty limited compared to what it could be and at this point might even be seen as a gimmick to the uninformed individual. The IoT is a giant network of connected "things" (which also includes people). Whether we are automating the production of a factory, giving city residents real-time traffic updates or monitoring our personal health, it’s the common internet of things platform that brings this diverse information together and provides the common language for the devices and apps to communicate with each other.
We as human beings interact, contribute and collaborate with other people in our own environment through our five senses. Imagine ‘things’ with the ability to sense and to touch and then add the ability to communicate and that’s where the internet of people and the internet of things intersect. Sophisticated sensors and actuators are embedded in the physical things that surround us each transmitting data and information. The process starts with the devices themselves which securely communicate with the internet of things platform. This platform integrates the data from many devices and implies analytics to share the most valuable data with applications that address industry-specific needs.
Say for example a wearable device like a smart watch that monitors your heartbeat, blood pressure and other vitals which is then synced with an app on your smart phone that analyses the data and identifies your mood and anxiety levels and tells you whether you need an appointment with the doctor. Now, if we add a smart home entertainment system to the mix that would sync with the smart phone and set up a music playlist suited for the current mood which would start playing automatically the moment you reach home. What if your office equipment knew when it was running low on supplies and automatically re-ordered more? Cars now have sensors that measure performance indicators like tyre pressure, fuel economy and various engine levels like oil pressure and temperature. Companies that are trying to increase home automation are currently focused on optimizing security and comfort, installing internet accessible cameras, locking or unlocking the door with a smart phone app are some of the internet-based advancements available to homeowners today. The scale of the Internet of Things is almost impossible to comprehend, but forecasts by research firm Gartner predict it will be made up of 26 billion to 30 billion connected objects by 2020. To put that into context, in 2012 Cisco estimated the total number of internet-connected devices at 8.7 billion (including phones, tablets and computers.)
All these examples are only the beginning of what the Internet of Things is capable of. Today- most internet and connected devices require human intervention to change anything about them but in the future, as more and more ‘things’ are connected with each other they can read off from each other themselves without our intervention. So, the concern then is that if machines are going to become so intelligent and efficient that they take over most of our day to day tasks then where do humans really fit in? Do we have a point anymore? And this is the main issue that some of the greatest minds of this age are starting to address with this growing implementation of automation.
We are entering into a stage where everything will be connected and experts predict that the impact of IoT will be $11 trillion a year by 2025, across factories, cities, human identification and interaction, health care, work sites and general safety, offices and vehicles. And why now? Because of the ultra-low cost of this hardware, the high availability of resources, the low level of difficulty to compile them and put them together and highly digital and the connected universe that is driving us towards not just connecting our digital space in our digital lives, but our physical space and the things we actually deal with every day.
So, as we welcome the whole universe to the next era of connectivity, I ask, once all our tasks are automated, when the things that we currently do every day, that some of us love and some of us hate, are actually replaced by IoT devices, artificial intelligence and interconnected systems, what do we do? We come back to creativity, innovation and humanity. We cannot replace our need to create new things, to improve them and to build interpersonal relationships. IoT is the beginning of a new era.
Degree of Thought is a weekly community column initiated by Tetso College in partnership with The Morung Express. Degree of Thought will delve into the social, cultural, political and educational issues around us. The views expressed here do not reflect the opinion of the institution. Tetso College is a NAAC Accredited UGC recognised Commerce and Arts College. The editors are Dr Hewasa Lorin, Nungchim Christopher, Seyiesilie Vupru, Vikono Krose and Kvulo Lorin. Portrait photographer: Rhilo Mero. For feedback or comments please email: firstname.lastname@example.org.