Last month Gavin gave us an overview of the “Internet of Things” (also known as the “Internet of Everything”) and what it could mean for everyday life. But how far from the revolution are we? We spoke to some experts to find out.
You’ve probably heard it being mentioned a few times – that soon everything will be connected to the internet. Phones, of course, already are, as are some cars and some TVs. It makes you wonder what else they could possibly add to the ever growing network. Well, as it turns out, a lot. Because when they say “everything”, they really mean everything.
Right now it may be hard to see past today’s familiar old internet connected only to devices with easily recognisable interfaces (e.g. screens), but there are bigger plans. Take your fridge, for example: at the moment it only stores your chilled foods, but connected to the internet it could tell you when your products have expired or whether it needs maintenance, or even tell you which items you’re low on. It sounds a little fanciful, but these are already in development.
As Gavin pointed out in the last post, in the not-too-distant future your phone will probably have made a series of helpful decisions and analyses before you even wake up (traffic conditions, weather etc.), and your car will already have planned your route to work. The concept may well ignite a global data eruption, which will help to develop a world where every item we use knows what to do and how to help us even before we do.
The Internet of Everything does have its sceptics, but it’s certainly not science-fiction – most tech experts don’t see it as an “if” question, but a “when”. So how close is it? Look hard enough around you and you’ll see that it’s pretty much already happening: Google Glass have now opened up the world to more “Minority Report” kinds of technology; washing machines are being developed that buy detergent automatically if you run out; and there are already some toothbrushes that can monitor how you brush your teeth and send the data to your phone.
What will be next? Well, it’s a little hard to tell for those of us in the middle of it, as the network seems to be already growing under our feet; most public transport, for example, is WiFi enabled, and devices like smart watches are on the rise. And after that? Wireless cities. Yes, cities that have wireless internet available wherever you go, even as you walk the streets. Indeed, this development is already underway.
How will it all work? It might surprise you to learn that Britain is at the forefront of the technological advances required to take on the challenge. ARM, a tech company based in Cambridge UK, are behind a large proportion of the microchips that enabled the smartphone revolution. It is a similar technology that will run the Internet of Everything. ARM’s CEO Simon Segars suggests that the advancement will cover everything and anything, not just sleek phones and luxury cars – even street lamps will be connected, updating their operators as and when parts need replacing.
Ask the experts
So where do we stand? When will these slow changes amount to a more completed version of the Internet of Everything? To find out, Purple WiFi spoke to Christopher Barnatt of ExplainingTheFuture.com, expert on future technologies and Associate Professor of Strategy and Future Studies in Nottingham University Business School:
Q: So thinking about the “Internet of Everything”, we’ve seen phones and cars going online, but what do you think is the next big change we are likely to see?
A: I would highlight three things. Firstly, and in the next few years, I think we will see a lot of consumer appliances connected to the internet for the purpose of monitoring their electricity use, and even allowing devices like heaters or refrigerators to purchase their own electricity.
Secondly, the Internet of Things will include many devices for monitoring our health – everything from sensors that take temperature and blood pressure, through to devices that extract data from pacemakers.
Thirdly, and probably 5 to 10 years from now, we will start to see highly flexible screen technologies integrated into clothing, so offering the opportunity for clothing to be part of the network – for example jackets with Facebook walls on them.
Q: How long do you think it will be until pretty much everything we use is part of one giant online network?
A: I think that within 10 years, most of the items we purchase and interact with regularly will have an online presence. However, they will not have an electronic connection to the internet. Rather, advancements in vision recognition in particular, and data mining and Big Data technologies in general, will allow the data shadows of most things in our lives to be accurately monitored. For example, items on most supermarket shelves will not be connected directly to the internet, but in-store cameras and vision recognition technology will track their life cycle in the store, then correlate this with financial, location and other data from the purchaser.
Q: What do you think it will mean for very traditional media? Will things like paper be obsolete in a couple of years?
A: Paper will not become obsolete, as has been so poorly predicted for many decades. This said, paper use is finally falling, and will continue to do so as tablets in particular become more ubiquitous. I think the big change will be the increasing use of video media rather than text-based media.
To get another view, we also had a chance to catch up with Kevin Parker, expert on the future of technology for business:
Q: What’s next in the Internet of Everything?
A: Every walk of life (and even death) already has an app. In the IoE these apps join forces and assist each other in their tasks.
In the kitchen the refrigerator and the pantry will talk to the doctor’s office and will recommend the dinner menu based on what ingredients are available and what the doctor has to say about one’s dietary needs. The oven will pre-heat in time for your arrival home which it will calculate by tracking your location on your commute.
Even politics is at risk. National boundaries, especially in Europe, are almost meaningless today. National governments provided a 19th century, centralized solution to the needs of a society where communication was slow and the population largely uneducated. In the 21st century communication is instant and all the world’s knowledge is in the palm of our hand. Why do we still insist on these arbitrary lines on maps that do not reflect who we are but who we were?
Q: What does it mean for the future of traditional media?
A: Ereaders and iPads are the paper of the future. Most people get there news by device already today. Look at any commuter train carriage. The people with the newspapers are the older generation. Everyone else is locked into their tablet reading, listening and watching the news. Print media cannot compete with the Internet’s ability to let us see what our friends and colleagues are reading.
Q: How will businesses profit from the Internet of Everything?
A: The new hot job title is going to be CQO, Chief Questioning Officer. This person will be responsible thinking of the right questions to ask and for creating the technology to answer them.
Every business, great and small, will be more successful if it delivers better goods and services with greater margins than its competitors. The IoE makes this possible. With all that data out there and with everything connected to every other thing creating more data, new truths are awaiting discovery. Data is the new oil: extract it, refine it and fuel your business with it.
And for a final insight we spoke to top Business Technology Futurist and leading future consultant Jack Shaw:
Q: What do you think we’ll see next in the Internet of Everything?
A: First off, it might be better to talk about the “Internet of Things”, rather than the Internet of Everything – it’s more specific. What could happen next is extremely broad: security, retailing, transportation, manufacturing, healthcare, energy, research – all these sectors have major components that should be online. With micro tech moving to nano tech, we’ll see a mass evolution from a disconnected network of “dumb” things, to a connected internet of “smart” things. For example, your tennis racket could have a chip in it that monitors your playing and reports back to your computer, or you could even be playing wearing your Google Glass.
Healthcare will be interesting. The Internet of Things will help reduce costs in this sector – things like patient monitoring. Having a centralised NHS will mean that Britain can lead the way in this respect.
In general I think we may witness the growth of an Internet of Autonomous Things, a network with intelligent agents that make decisions independently from us.
Q: What do you think it means for the future of business?
A: It will affect everything, just like the original internet did when it first came around. Businesses will have to ask themselves where they can reduce costs and better serve their customers by using the fully connected network of things.
For starters, right now businesses don’t know where all their computers or hardware are at any one time – they’re constantly losing this stuff. This won’t be an issue once everything is connected. Office buildings and office processes in general will become more efficient.
Digital currency could also be something we see emerging in the network, for example Bitcoin. The advantage of Bitcoin is that it has an unchangeable public record, meaning every transaction can be traced. We could get to a stage where business deals are brokered entirely online by an intelligent agent that’s been told to find the best deal of its own accord. Perhaps it could even lead to entirely autonomous corporations that are themselves independent entities. But of course all this will mean that security risks will become even more important to address carefully.