Internet of Things

Smaller computing and radio devices, often unseen or built-into objects, will sense and transmit data, offering greater control and connectivity between objects.

How It’s Developing

As technology becomes smaller and cheaper, it is possible to embed computing, wireless communication, and radio devices into objects and connect them so that they can collect and transmit data, be controlled by other objects, and connect to the larger internet infrastructure. [1] The interconnection of devices and the data that they produce, when leveraged by applications to create useful intelligence that can be transmitted back, will help automate and improve services and experiences provided by these devices. [2]
The range of devices that might be connected includes wearable technologies (smart watches, activity trackers), implanted medical technologies, home appliances, and infrastructure (sewer pipes, street lights). Estimates of the size of the Internet of Things range from twenty-five billion to fifty billion objects connected by 2025. [3] The Pew Research Center, canvassing technology experts, reported that of the 1,606 experts who responded, 83% believed that the evolution of the Internet of Things would have beneficial effects on the public by 2025. [4]
Body worn computers, like smart watches or activity trackers, will become particularly important as they will allow individuals to not only monitor and track activities but also provide the data to other objects that can use the information to improve user experiences (temperature and lighting adjustments, for example) or to control other devices, such as unlock doors. [5] Devices might also be inserted into fashion by embedding clothing with sensors that capture information like an item's temperature, how often an item is worn and washed to see if customers are using the clothing as intended, and if the products are meeting expected standards. [6]
One of the potential challenges for a growing Internet of Things is the variety of data collection and reporting methods that might be used. Without standards for this data’s collection and transmission, the benefits of the Internet of Things may not be as fully or easily realized. [7]
New and emerging concerns for the Internet of Things include security and environmental impact. Devices that collect data and store data (including personal account information) and that potentially control parts of our lives would be susceptible to hackers. [8] As many of these products are just being developed, security may not be among the primary concerns of producers. [9] Many early advocates for the Internet of Things mentioned potential environmental benefits from connected devices, such as more efficient use of resources or reduced pollution. However, the manufacturing of new enabled devices means that older devices will be displaced and disposed of, and, potentially worse, a whole host of devices will enter a technology upgrade cycle (planned obsolescence) to which they might never previously have belonged, further contributing to cycles of disposal. [10]

Why It Matters

As connected objects proliferate, consumers may have technical questions about their use or will require new skills to implement and manage the devices.
As with other technological trends, there is a potential divide between the haves and the have-nots. As stated by K.G. Schneider, “There will be an expectation that successful living as a human will require being equipped with pricey accouterments...Reflecting on this makes me concerned that as the digital divide widens, people left behind will be increasingly invisible and increasingly seen as less than full humans.” [11]
Implications for privacy abound and while many may evaluate that the trade-off for improved quality of life is worth the relinquishing of privacy, other may not. This may become more complicated as objects enter the public arena – light posts that monitor noise and foot traffic – where individuals have fewer opportunities to avoid these invasions. [12]
The data generated by these objects has tremendous value. Much of the data may be used by companies to improve and/or create new services or market additional services or products. The data could also help increase understanding of events and trends, as demonstrated by Jawbone, a producer of wearable activity trackers, that graphed data collected by devices during a 2014 California Earthquake. [13] Data collected by objects could be used by researchers to identify useful trends or patterns in society that might otherwise have gone unexamined.
The growing number of devices that make up the Internet of Things will necessitate a move toward API-centric (application programming interfaces) development, allowing developers and engineers to build pieces on top of existing layers within larger ecosystems. [14]

Notes and Resources

[1] “How the Internet of Things Will Change Business,” Antonio Regalado, MIT Technology Review, May 20, 2014, available from

[2] “The Internet of Things is Far Bigger Than Anyone Realizes,” Daniel Burrus, Wired, November 21, 2014, available from

[3] “How the Internet of Things Will Change Business,” Antonio Regalado, MIT Technology Review, May 20, 2014, available from

[4] “The Internet of Things Will Thrive by 2025,” Janna Anderson and Lee Rainie, Pew Research Center, May 14, 2014, available from

[5] “The Internet of You,” Rachel Metz, MIT Technology Review, May 20, 2014, available from

[6] "L.L. Bean wants to know what you're doing in its duck boots," George Anderson, Retail Wire, February 9, 2018, available from

[7] "The Rise of the Machines, Now What?" Greg Jones, Wired, February 17, 2015, available from

[8] “Home, Hacked Home,” The Economist, July 12, 2014, available from

[9] “The Half-Baked Security of Our Internet of Things,” Kashmir Hill, Forbes, May 27, 2014, available from

[10] “The Internet of Things Could Drown Our Environment in Gadgets,” Klint Finley, Wired, June 5, 2014, available from

[11] “The Internet of Things Will Thrive by 2025,” Janna Anderson and Lee Rainie, Pew Research Center, May 14, 2014, available from

[12] “Chicago’s New Lamp Posts Will Track Pollution and Count People,” Jamie Condliffe, Gizmodo, June 23, 2014, available from

[13] “Jawbone Opens a Window to Our Humanity Tracking Future,” Casey Johnston, Ars Technica, August 26, 2014, available from

[14] "The Future Of Coding Is Here, And It Threatens To Wipe Out Everything In Its Path," Chet Kapoor, TechCrunch, September 27, 2015, available from