The future of the Internet: The Internet of Things

It’s easy to make thousands of predictions about what will happen with the internet over the next few years. But some predictions can be made with a degree of certainty. None are so certain as the arrival of the Internet of things.

In the 90’s tech evangelists started selling us this idea when they touted the imminent arrival of fridges that know when you’re out of milk and automatically add it to your grocery list. This was just before the bubble burst and they all went away to eventually become social media strategists.

Today though the tables have turned. We might be entering a second internet bubble but no one debates whether the internet is important or financially sound anymore. With the recent arrival of mobile devices that people really want to use, the iPhone and iPad still forerunners in the field, we’re seeing the beginnings of the internet of things.

Things that just a few years ago only made calls now measure how many steps we take, what route we walk and how close to the screen we are. Sensors are invading our lives at an ever increasing pace to fill our information hunger. So far this is happening to our high tech gear. But since tech is still improving exponentially, according to Moore’s law, in just a few years there will be no point in having electronics that don’t have processors, sensors and wifi connections. With budding technologies waiting to take over such as IPv6 and NFC all these devices will be able to come online and stay online for basically no cost.

And that is just the start. When every lamp, machine and key in your house has sensors the prices will drop even further. Making sensors even more ubiquitous. There’s a tag on the apples you buy, why not add a sensor and check how ripe it is? There’s a stamp on that envelope, the sensors on it can make sure it hasn’t been shaken about to much.

Of course there will be issues with who controls all this data and not least what to do with it. But like all new technology the positive effects outweigh the negative as soon as we get over the fart-app stage.

The possibilities of this vast network of smart sensors are endless.

Left the door unlocked? Lock it from your phone. Did your son eat the last of the cheese? You will always know. The lamps will turn off when you step away from them to save electricity and you’ll never forget your keys again. Ever.

But all these are only just from the tip of the iceberg, the real magic happens when these everyday objects start communicating with each other. We’re not talking about intelligent conversation here, just mere cooperation between systems. No risk of sentient toasters attacking us just yet.

Let’s say you’re at work planning a dinner with your spouse. You agree on a certain meal over the phone, video call, messaging service or whatever. Immediately your things at home spring into action. Your house butler service, a server the size of a doorbell, sees your conversation and finds the recipe. The fridge checks what you have at home and orders the missing ingredients. The ingredients arrive and your cleaning robot, vacuum and arm for moving things, lays out the ingredients on your kitchen counter. The oven heats itself. As you open the door the butler starts playing the appropriate music based on your preferences and earlier conversation. The bottle of wine is open. You only need to wash your hands and cut those cheeseburgers in half.

Every single one of these services exist today. Some are expensive. Some still a bit rudimentary. But the essential differences today is that they lack information from sensors and the processing power to do something with it. And they can’t communicate without you acting as a translator.

The internet of things is almost upon us, and while we can’t say exactly what it will be like. Two things are certain: it will truly change everything forever, much like the internet already has. And it will be awesome!

Orginially guest blogged for