Web-enabled devices are swiftly becoming more than phones and tablet computers. Virtually every product on the market has the potential to become “smart” – connected to the Internet and able to be accessed or adjusted remotely as a result. From toasters to Tesla, computers with a connection to the cloud are being found everywhere.
The experts have a name for the technological paradigm shift currently underway: the Internet of Things. The name says it all: a world where common things are directly tethered to the web. Expectations are high for this new age of tech: 90% of cars on the road will be connected to the Internet by 2020, while the entire Internet of Things is expected contain 50 billion different products by the same time. The total value of the technology behind the Internet of Things is projected to surpass $6 trillion by 2025.
Generally speaking, the software needed for the IoT is already here, ready to go. Hardware is what needs to catch up. Leaders in the manufacturing of embedded computer components, and other essential “organs” of modern technology, are fast at work designing the parts needed to help today’s software reach its potential in the IoT. The focus has been predominantly industrial – avionics, communications, defense, energy, et cetera – but hardware makers are swiftly diversifying their fields of involvement.
Embedded systems are soon to become the standard of the kitchen, living room, garage, and workplace – if they aren’t already. At last, a new chapter of ideas from countless science fiction authors, future-minded filmmakers, and others born ahead of their time over the years is finally being written into reality. First it was rocket ships, then it was instantaneous communication, now it’s a world of highly interactive and eternally-web connected objects, tools, vehicles, and other gadgets seemingly smart and perhaps even thoughtful.
For example, imagine a world where the home central computer detects a heated argument among occupants. Individuals are yelling and rapidly moving from one room to another. A quick check of its index will lead to automatically adjusting climate control to literally cool things down.
Studies show a correlation between high temperatures and increased propensity for anger and violence – is it not logical to assume computers in five years will be able to independently appreciate the value of such information and utilize it for the betterment of people?
As with everything, however, there is a flip-side to the coin. The trade-off for the many benefits of the IoT is the huge amount of information we are going to be sharing about ourselves. Broadcasting personal data is nothing new for the overwhelming majority of Internet users, but the ability for everyday objects to report to the cloud our bathroom habits is certain to make more than one person feel uneasy. Laws and regulations written to protect digital privacy will have to adapt to the new frontier of technology or risk being ineffective in the face of the IoT.
The Internet of Things is already here, albeit in a mostly industrial capacity or niche market. However, the IoT is projected to grow quickly in the next five to ten years. From that point onward it’s safe to say the rate of products consistently connected to the web will only increase, and the products themselves become increasingly smarter.