Like quantum computing, the IoT (Internet of Things) is drastically changing the way that people view and interact with computers. But what is it?

“The Internet of Things” became a tech buzzphrase when Kevin Ashton (cofounder of MIT’s Auto ID Center) first mentioned it in a presentation he made to Procter & Gamble, way the heck back in 1999. One decade later, Ashton elaborates on the concept in an article he wrote for the Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) Journal:

IoT“Today’s computers- and, therefore, the internet- are almost wholly dependent on human beings for information. Nearly all of the roughly 50 petabytes of data available on the Internet were first captured and created by human beings- by typing, pressing a record button, taking a digital picture of scanning a bar code. Conventional diagrams of the Internet include servers and routers and so on, but they leave out the most numerous and important routers of all: people. The problem is, people have limited time, attention and accuracy- all of which mean they are not very good at capturing data about things in the real world.”

“If we had computers that knew everything there was to know about things- using data they gathered without any help from us- we could be able to track and count everything, and greatly reduce waste, loss and cost,” he continued. “We need to empower computers with their own means of gathering information, so they can see, hear and smell the world for themselves, in all its random glory. RFID and sensor technology enable computers to observe, identify, and understand the world- without the limitations of human-entered data.”

Let’s back up for a second. For the record, a member of the Internet of Things can be a lot of different kinds of “things;” a person, an animal, a vehicle, man-made things, non-man-made things, anything that has been assigned an IP address and anything provided with the ability to transfer data over a network.

IoT2The Fitbit is an excellent example. Among other things, the Fitbit is a pedometer that tracks the amount of steps taken by wearers. That information is then  sent to the user’s Fitbit account, so that the user is enabled to track the changes of his or her daily movement. The Fitbit therefore occupies a space in the Internet of Things, chiefly because it transfers data, over a network, to be accessed by other devices.

Ashton believes that products like the Fitbit scrape only the tip of the Internet of Things iceberg: “It’s not just a ‘bar code on steroids’ or a way to speed up toll roads, and we must never allow our vision to shrink to that scale. The Internet of Things has the potential to change the world, just as the Internet did. Maybe even more so.”

That said, the Internet of Things has already come a long way from its humble beginnings as a 1980s coke machine at Carnegie Mellon University. 

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