While searching for a current trend in Silicon Valley I wanted to discuss for this blog post, I was fortunate enough to have my Distributed Systems professor share with the class predictions for the “mega trends” to watch for in the next year. The trend that stood out to me the most was “The Internet of Things”, commonly abbreviated to the IoT. Many of us have seen or heard the phrase being used before, but it isn’t too farfetched to assume that something with a name that generic isn’t all too important. Hopefully by the end of this blog post I can show you how IoT will be a cornerstone for the future of technology.
What is the Internet of things?
The Internet of things is, well, exactly what it sounds like. As technology increases in capabilities and decreases in price, more people are owning more things – objects that can range from everyday items such as smart phones and computers to very advanced and out of the box technologies such as heart monitoring implants and field operation devices to aid firefighters. In fact, the devices can be even simpler, including objects that have existed far before the term the IoT was even invented, like coffee makers and washing machines. As the price of connecting things to the internet is also dropping, really any object with an on and off switch can be reconfigured to have the ability to connect to the internet, and thus be a part of the IoT. In fact, many companies are already following what some deem to be the “First Law of the IoT” – anything that can be connected, will be connected. Even parts of a greater object can be connected to the internet (example: jets of airplanes). As the graphic below shows, the number of “things” connected to the internet is projected to be around 50 billion by 2020, a nearly 500% increase in just 7 years. This staggering number creates a massive network of connected objects that can not only communicate and aid people, but can also do the same with other objects creating very interesting possibilities with “things to things relationships”.
Why does the IoT matter?
To understand why the IoT matters I think it’d be helpful to view how it can be very useful to consumers, and really revolutionize our everyday life. Imagine a few years into the future when all of your everyday “things” are connected to the internet and fully taking advantage of the Internet of Things. Your alarm clock goes off at 6 AM, a little earlier than usual, because it noticed that you had an early meeting booked in your smart phone’s calendar. As the alarm clock is ringing to wake you up, it is also signaling to your coffee maker to start brewing your morning coffee. While you are getting ready, your car begins communicating with your smart phone’s calendar to already find the fastest route to your meeting, and alerts you what time you should be ready to leave at. The car is very good at making accurate predications for when to leave because it is also communicating with other cars that are already on the roads you’ll shortly be traveling on. In fact, the autonomous cars are so great at sharing data with one another that accidents and traffic have become nearly obsolete as traveling via car is nearly optimized. Just a few years ago this would have read like the beginning of a Black Mirror episode, but we really aren’t too far away from this becoming a reality. Actually, many of these communications I described already exist. Of course this is a very simple anecdote, but the IoT does not have to be limited to such trivial tasks. A printer connected to the IoT could be programmed to order its own ink and paper when it senses these supplies are low. There already exists technology that can send parents data regarding their new-born directly to their smart phone including their breathing and body position while the parents are away from the child (you can learn more about this technology here). The possibilities for the IoT are seemingly infinite.
IOTA – Backbone of the Machine Economy:
There was no way I could write a blog post about the IoT without discussing IOTA. While learning more about the IoT, you may have seen a potential “second economy” forming – the machine economy. With all of these machines connected and working with one another they will need to receive payment in some form, which is where IOTA comes in. IOTA is one of the newer cryptocurrencies currently making splashes in the technology world, with its goal being far different than the popular cryptocurrencies before it. Instead of seeking to be a digital currency you and I can use to buy things, its goal is to provide secure communications and payments between machines on the Internet of Things.
“As the Internet-of-Things keep expanding, the need for interoperability and sharing of resources become a necessity. IOTA enables companies to explore new business-2-business models by making every technological resource a potential service to be traded on an open market in real time, with no fees.” – front page of iota.org
Because of IOTA having no fees (due to it using DAG technology it calls the “Tangle” instead of blockchain) it offers businesses the ability to charge machines on the IoT very, very small prices making the IoT much more attractive to businesses. We will have to wait and see if IOTA will be the cryptocurrency to capitalize on this payment system, but the idea that one seemingly needs to exist is important to note and quite interesting!
The Internet of Things will offer us nearly endless opportunities in the future, however, it does have its downsides. With a connected network that large involving so many people and moving pieces, there is a significant threat against security and privacy. If someone was to hack your coffee maker, would they then have access to your entire network, including your bank information, messages, and vehicles? Will a company allowing its “things” to connect with third party devices make their items susceptible to attacks and thus decrease their value? It is difficult to predict how this will all pan out, but there is no doubt that the IoT will be integral to our future, and it is important to discuss its pros and cons and the repercussions they can have on society. I am greatly looking forward to see how many of the companies we are visiting in Silicon Valley will utilize the IoT, and I hope you learned more about it!