What Is The Internet Of Things & How Will It Affect Our Future [MakeUseOf Explains]
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What Is The Internet Of Things & How Will It Affect Our Future [MakeUseOf Explains] The Internet Of Things IntroIt seems like there are new buzzwords popping up and dying off with each day that passes us by, and “the Internet of Things” just happens to be one of the more recent ideas that has people excited. The term itself is somewhat vague, though, and there’s a lot of misconception floating around regarding the exact nature of this Internet of Things. What is it exactly and why should you care?

Well, because the Internet of Things is inevitable – from the way things are progressing, as long as you remain on this earth, you won’t be able to escape it. That sounds a lot more ominous than it really is, but it’s no different than how far the Internet itself has come. It’s practically impossible to totally avoid the Internet and the Internet of Things is nothing more than the next logical step in the evolution of that mass connectivity.

Since you can’t escape it, you might as well know what it’s all about. Still sound vague to you? Let’s hop right in and start probing the concept and we’ll see how it’ll affect us years down the line.

What Is the ‘Internet Of Things’?

Right now, the Internet is mainly operated by humans. Of course, you have miles of fiber optic cabling and millions of routers around the world directing Internet traffic and hundreds of server farms and datacenters Inside 5 Of The World's Biggest Data Centers [Stats & Pics] Inside 5 Of The World's Biggest Data Centers [Stats & Pics] The “data center” has become one of the most important aspects of our computer culture’s existence. Without it, we’d be plunged once again into a world of faces and physical contact. There are hundreds, even... Read More that are crunching numbers for optimal service. But when you get down to the core of it, the Internet is a person-to-person network and the electronics are merely there to facilitate that network.

The Internet would be nothing without humans. What good is a blog without a blogger? What good are forums without members? Video games without players? Streams without watchers? Torrents without downloaders? Social networks without a society? Nearly every aspect of modern connectivity is by people for people.

What Is The Internet Of Things & How Will It Affect Our Future [MakeUseOf Explains] the internet of things 1

And this connectivity is great. Petabytes of data Memory Sizes Explained: Gigabytes, Terabytes, and Petabytes in Context Memory Sizes Explained: Gigabytes, Terabytes, and Petabytes in Context It is easy to see that 500GB is more than 100GB. But how do different sizes compare? What is a gigabyte to a terabyte? Where does a petabyte fit in? Let's clear it up! Read More pass through the tubes of the Internet on a daily basis and we’ve never been more interconnected as a global society than before. But the downside, at least right now, is that very little of this data can be processed quickly and efficiently. Humans just can’t match the computational capabilities of an electronic device. That’s where the Internet of Things comes in.

The Internet of Things is a network of multiple devices that communicate with each other without human involvement. This device-to-device communication mostly involves the collection of data and the processing of that data so that said devices can make their own decisions and act accordingly. Hence the name: Internet (connectivity) of Things (devices).

What Is It Useful For?

Again, I’m sure all of that sounds eerily similar to any number of movies that feature a robots-turn-on-humans plot, but there are some real-life applications of this concept that can truly advance modern society.

One of the common scenarios used to advocate the Internet of Things involves prescription medication. Medication often needs to be taken at specific intervals in order to be effective and forgetting to take a pill can be anything from an annoyance to life-threatening. Suppose pill bottles were equipped with a mini-device that could tell when you’ve forgotten to take a pill and subsequently sends out an SMS, email, or phone call to remind you?

What Is The Internet Of Things & How Will It Affect Our Future [MakeUseOf Explains] the internet of things 2

How about a more mundane example: electrical efficiency. An electric company could install upgrades to their grid that process electricity usage and that data could be used by appliances to determine the best times to run, i.e., times when the electrical grid is low in demand. If every household participated in this type of “smart electricity,” the reduction in grid stress could prove extremely beneficial for operating costs and environmental sustainability.

The Internet of Things can be applied on a larger scale as well – for example, traffic management. If a city’s infrastructure was expanded to include roadside sensors, that data could be used to analyze traffic patterns around the city and dynamically adjust traffic light operations to minimize, or even eliminate, jams and chokepoints.

What Does It Mean For Us?

The Internet of Things is a simple concept that only requires three things to function:

  • A way for devices to be interconnected,
  • A way for devices to gather data,
  • A way for devices to process that data and make decisions accordingly.

This interconnectivity has huge implications for efficiency and automation as discussed above. When utilized properly, this no-humans-involved sort of self-device-management frees us up to spend our time elsewhere. In the future, maybe it’ll save us as little as a few minutes per day or as much as several hours per day, but all of it adds up to big gains in the long run.

There are a few dangers and cautions that we should be aware of, though.

What Is The Internet Of Things & How Will It Affect Our Future [MakeUseOf Explains] the internet of things 3

As always, data security is extremely important. Device-to-device communication is all good and dandy until a human decides to spoof part of that connection and remotely hijack a device How Can Hackers Hijack My PC? [MakeUseOf Explains] How Can Hackers Hijack My PC? [MakeUseOf Explains] Malware is usually very specific in what it does to your PC, whether that's displaying ads, taking over your browser homepage and search bar, or nagging you to pay for some fake anti-virus. Hijacking however... Read More for malicious purposes. This isn’t a huge problem for something like device-regulated home temperature, but losing control of city-wide traffic could spell disaster.

And then there are device malfunctions. We all know how software and hardware can both be buggy, and sometimes those bugs are quite major. With regard to the Internet of Things, buggy hardware (errors in data collection) and buggy software (errors in data processing) can throw massive wrenches into the large systems that future generations may grown to depend on.

And let’s not forget the issue of ubiquitous information, especially as we reflect on the recent PRISM scandal. Maybe the widespread collection and processing of data is something that we shouldn’t pursue, even if under the promise of a more efficient, more convenient life tomorrow. If it does end up coming back and biting us in the rear somewhere down the line, we’ll be feeling it for ages to come.

What are your thoughts on the Internet of Things? Do you welcome it with open arms or will you shun it with all your might? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!

Image Credits: Device Network Via Shutterstock, Global Connectivity Via Shutterstock, Electrical Grid Via Shutterstock, Internet Alert Via Shutterstock

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  1. ttocs
    June 29, 2013 at 12:38 am

    if we take away humans-we take away humanity.

  2. Ulf Mattsson
    June 28, 2013 at 10:32 pm

    You said that "the widespread collection and processing of data is something that we shouldn't pursue, even if under the promise of a more efficient, more convenient life tomorrow".

    I think that there is a solution to this and I have seen approaches that can protect our privacy in this scenario.

    Ulf Mattsson, CTO Protegrity

    • Joel L
      July 1, 2013 at 3:06 pm

      Would you like to share your thoughts on those solutions/approaches? I'm curious to know.

  3. David Moreira
    June 28, 2013 at 7:33 pm

    Great article! Very informative.

  4. Suleiman Orotta
    June 28, 2013 at 6:24 pm

    Man makes devices and not vise versa. Man controls devises at any given time. Man is ways smarter than devices. Futuristic movies that we see are based mostly on sheer imaginations. That is why they call them Science Fictions and not Science Facts.

    Internet of Things is a brave concept that should be embraced and not feared. Every device on the face of earth has a margin of errors but we are still using them. When you fly, most of the trip is administrated by the plane's auto pilot (device) and not the human pilot. NASA sent a multi-million robot (device) to Mars to explore. If man have never took risks before, you and I would be still living in villages ( don't get me wrong, i love village life :) )

    I am for Internet of Things and i feel the pros are way higher than the cons. Devices are dumb and man is smart, as long as Dr. Evil has no accessibly to the devices :)

    • Joel L
      July 1, 2013 at 3:05 pm

      "Man is ways smarter than devices."

      This is true, but we should remember that man is fallible. Yes, it's unlikely that devices will develop sentience and take over the world - humans are smarter than devices in that sense - but right now, devices can only do what humans program them to do... and our programming sucks! Humans make tons of mistakes, and if we program incorrectly, devices will make mistakes.

      I think that's one danger of the Internet of Things. If we don't take care to program these devices perfectly, there may be an unsuspecting malfunction somewhere down the line and it could unfortunately be devastating.

  5. williamworlde
    June 28, 2013 at 4:48 am

    So here's how I see it playing out. Maybe I've become extremely paranoid from looking at the Terminator movies; maybe not. A really bad movie with a very real, frightening concept is the Snipes/Stallone flick, Demolition Man. That is a very scary look at what we may do to ourselves.

    Humans are lazy. *Some* humans are smart. Those smart people are creating some fantastic technology for the masses, but who's keeping a check on those devices? Not us lazy humans! Look at how much information we're readily giving up about ourselves in the name of "convenience".

    I betcha a catchphrase that will become mainstream is "Self-aware" from the Terminator series. (Can you tell that movie scares the crap out of me?!) When our devices become self-aware, what/who will stop them from determining what is in the best interest of their human "masters"?

    For the record, I am neither a Luddite nor a conspiratorist. I love my technology, but I take the best care I possibly can to safeguard my info. I am not giving it away that easily in the name of convenience!

    One more thing. If you think a "Prism-like" monitoring isn't happening in your neck of the woods, think again! Just hope it's your own government and not a foreign entity... or Google or WalMart (wink, wink, nod, nod).

    • 1hegame
      June 28, 2013 at 6:40 am

      Have you replied me somewhere. I'm just of thought that there is so much distraction. Things will do some other work and we'll do some other at the same time keeping an eye on the Things. Gone good old times.

      but I take the best care I possibly can to safeguard my info. I am not giving it away that easily in the name of convenience!
      I do the same.

    • dragonmouth
      June 28, 2013 at 2:43 pm

      "I betcha a catchphrase that will become mainstream is “Self-aware” from the Terminator series."
      "Self Aware" was used in a 1966 SciFi novel "Colossus" by Dennis Feltham Jones. In 1970 the film version of the book, "Colossus: the Forbin Project", hit the screens. Basically it is about a super computer that becomes sentient and links up with other computers world-wide increasing its power. Eventually all the computers in the world are linked as nodes in one all-powerful, all-controlling, self-aware super computer. And, no, the humans do not triumph over the computer in this tory.

      • williamworlde
        June 28, 2013 at 4:00 pm

        Re: Colossus. Thank you for that. Never heard of it. I guess Terminator just "screamed" louder so if the phrase does become mainstream and attributed to that movie, there will be an ensuing argument that it wasn't, it was actually "Colossus". Ha! That said, and putting "popularism" aside, I thank you for teaching me something.

        • dragonmouth
          June 28, 2013 at 7:22 pm

          Don't forget, "Terminator" is a franchise with four movies (a fifth one is planned for 2015), a TV series and a governor in the title role. "Colossus" was only a book by an obscure writer and a movie with few special effects, in which humans did not triumph. Which one do you think had a chance of being more popular? /grin/

  6. Zhong J
    June 28, 2013 at 3:28 am

    Internet can change the boundaries between the educated and the average joe who dope around in his room without no internet access. However, this taught us the limitations of how this behavior affect us all, as the Internet is more accessible worldwide, information is relatively quick to be received on each party's end and it's now a habit for almost everyone who have at least access the net once a day.

  7. 1hegame
    June 28, 2013 at 2:26 am

    Thanks for telling this new concept @Joel. Concept is clear - Internet we use is 'Internet of Humans' and the internet they'll use will be 'Internet of Things'. Though it is very hard to understand it by just reading the terms.

    "remotely hijack a device"
    "device malfunctions"
    "can throw massive wrenches into the large systems that future generations may grown to depend on."
    But still I think technology is trustable at some point. Isn't Humankind is becoming lazy by developing such things? Or this is really for productivity? Human mind has been distracted on so many things.

    • Joel L
      July 1, 2013 at 3:02 pm

      I think it's interesting, and a little sad, that we have so much technology available today to make our lives easier but we're busier than ever. Our lives are enjoyable but we don't have the time to enjoy it. Distracted is a great way to describe it.