What is the Internet of Things…and how is it transforming the world?

5 Apr 2018

Put it simply, the Internet of Things (IoT) is a network of interrelated physical objects connected through the internet, to “talk” to each other. It is the concept of an object communicating and sensing its operations and environment, to change how and where decisions are made, and who makes them. By enabling these devices to communicate within close silos or across networks we are creating a smarter, more efficient and more connected world.

From simple sensors to wearable technology and smartphones, IoT offers the opportunity to be more efficient in how we approach tasks, saving time, money and often, emissions. It allows companies, governments and individuals to re-consider how they deliver services and produce goods for much more contextualised and responsive interactions. Manufacturing is perhaps the sector furthest ahead in terms of IoT, using these networks to organise tools, machines and people.

In the future, IoT will transform into a network of interconnected offline devices that can interact with their environment to make smart decisions without human intervention.

According to Gartner, by 2020, the IoT installed base (excluding PCs, tablets, and smartphones) will reach 26 billion units, driving a market worth in excess of $3 trillion. By 2025, they predict that global IoT technology could be worth as much as $6.2trillion – following advancements in in health care devices ($2.5tr) and manufacturing ($2.3tr), with blockchain adding $3.1tr of value to businesses by 2030.

In the early 90s, the internet connected PCs creating networks that dramatically increased the productivity of the working world and ignited digital commerce. Since then, cellular and wireless networks have also evolved, driven by consumer’s appetite for connectivity. The demand for data led to the development of one of the most disruptive platforms of all time – the smartphone. Through the internet, the smartphone has put the world in the palm of your hand, allowing us to communicate instantly with people on the other side of the world, share images, files and ideas, manage our lives and even monitor our health. This emerging paradigm is one of connectivity, and having taken the first step, technology is now being applied to previously ‘dumb’ objects in a bid to improve efficiency and responsiveness across every facet of our lives. From cars, fridges, heating systems to home entertainment, healthcare devices and power supplies, the possibilities of efficiency born out of ‘smart’ technology is seemingly endless.

The technology that underlies this whole segment is evolving quickly, whether it’s the rapid rise of voice assistants upending the consumer space, or growth of AI-powered analytics platforms for the enterprise market. Gartner predicts that by 2017, 8.4 billion things will connected worldwide, a 31 percent increase from 2016, and by 2020, this number will reach 20.4 billion connected devices.

IoT is more than smart homes and connected appliances, however. Its true potential is on a global scale. The development of smart cities that boast connected traffic signals,  monitor utility use, hold smart bins that signal when they need to be emptied, tracking parts in a manufacturing process or monitoring crops all enable efficiency, productivity and could impact economies.

The use of IoT could also lead to a societal shift. Technology allows information to be democratized, giving more power to citizens allows huge potential to rethink how we manage our urban environments, empowering citizens to impact the energy and environmental agenda on a base level. With knowledge about the pollution map or what is happening with traffic, people become better citizens and start to better manage their own cities. And why are Governments actively funding initiatives that would essentially devolve their power? Basically, data enables automation, which in turn drives efficiency, meaning we use less energy.

So, for all these benefits to our lives, the environment and the economy, what are the downsides? Security and privacy are the biggest challenges for IoT. Connected devices and networks collect personal data about what you use and how you use it – the smart meter knows when you’re at home, what room you are in and what devices you are using in that room. It shares this information with other devices and is also held in databases by companies. Many believe that not enough is being done to build security and as a result, there are a number of well documented examples of hacking that can be achieved through the IoT networks. From connected baby monitors to automated lighting and smart fridge’s, hackers can gain access to your home and your business and disrupt this technology, taking it out of your control.

For the most part, hackers have yet to pay much attention to IoT; possibly because there are yet to be enough people using connected appliances for an attack to be worth the effort. However, once the commercial incentive for hacking into smart homes and devices is there, cybercrime will turn its attention.

The second major drawback to IoT is the restriction that is placed on its advancement by power. Whether you use a tether or a battery, the growth of the IoT is limited by how devices are powered. Without these constraints, IoT becomes truly exciting. From industrial sensors drawing data from anything, anywhere, to drones that fly indefinitely, and smart pills connected to monitoring patches or wearable technology that monitors dangerous health anomalies such as heart rhythms or tremors. IoT devices could help us in ways that we haven’t even thought of yet.

The IoT has the potential to cause a seismic shift across every area of our lives, societies, industries and economies. As with all new technological paradigms, it is impossible to tell which direction IoT will take and how it will become embedded in our consciousness. What is exciting however, is the potential that this technology has to improve our lives. As long as it is progressed alongside adequate frameworks, guidelines and measures, we are witnessing a revolution of the way we live. In real time.

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