The Internet of Things

By Robert Hickson 02/09/2011

An interesting infographic from Cisco forecasts the anticipated growth of devices connected over the internet. It notes that the number of things connected to the internet in 2008 was greater than the world population. By 2020 it predicts that 50 billion things will be connected — from cows to household appliances. This assumes that Internet Protocol version 6 is adopted so that there are enough IP addresses for all these things.


We aren’t yet living in a world where your fridge does the shopping for you, and some wired-up appliances have been expensive gimmicks that didn’t sell. But an increasing number of things are being connected up — bathroom scales, ‘smart’ fridges, laundry services, printers and manufacturing processes  . Some of the main developments in the last year can be read about at ReadWriteWeb.

The utility of such connections range from providing information to influence behaviour (such as losing weight, exercising, which attempt to work through the use of feedback loops), personal safety (monitoring your heart remotely or helping avoid road accidents), through to better monitoring of environmental hazards, more efficient use of energy or streamlining production processes. Scientists are also connecting their research subjects and other things up to the internet to gather data.

Are we really going to be living in a world where nearly everything is connected? And if so what will that mean? On the one hand there are certainly economic, environmental and social benefits from collecting and sharing certain information.

On the other hand there are concerns about privacy, reliability and security. Elizabeth Churchill from Yahoo! has written a good reflective article on trust in such a connected world [PDF, 6.34 MB]. Who will be liable if your fridge shares your diet with the neighbour, or orders the wrong food? Will you start developing more meaningful relationships with your household appliances? And what happens if someone hacks into your wired coffee maker?

Costs of such “smart” devices will also influence manufacturers and consumers. But I’d start investing in data centres.

Some researchers, government departments, and other organisations (not to mention curious citizens permanently on-line) are already familiar with information overload. Is it just going to get worse for the rest of you too? Developing new ways of collecting, analyzing and displaying information will be required so that the best use is made of everything that is collected. The way some organisations are structured and how some decisions are made will need to change as they increasingly rely on Amazonian-like flows of information.

Governments are just getting use to making more data available to the public. Most aren’t prepared for the digital floods that could start flowing back to them.

Update: I just came across a report from the UK’s Technology Strategy Board on Information Security 2020 [PDF, 1.06 MB]. It notes that more attention has recently been given to process and people aspects of information security, but that with increasing amounts of information and greater computational performance, technological approaches are likely to dominate again. The report emphasises the far reaching impacts information security issues will have for organisations, and identifies key questions organisations need to consider.

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