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Internet of Things: What it is and how it affects you

Computers are more and more in our lives
Computers are more and more in our lives
Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

You may or may not have heard of the Internet of Things, or IoT. But it probably affects you and without question will affect your life in the future.

The Internet of Things, sometimes called the Internet of Everything or the industrial internet, is a relatively new way of identifying and inventorying things. But first, some background.

Internet Protocol (IP) addresses are the way the internet identifies each connection or 'node' on the internet. Every node requires a unique address. IPv4 (IP version 4) is the most common addressing scheme used today. IPv4 allows approximately 4.3 billion unique addresses. That number seemed like plenty of nodes when IPv4 was defined in September of 1981. But since the advent of the World Wide Web in the early 1990s the internet exploded and quickly used up the address space that IPv4 is capable of. Yes, the internet and the World Wide Web are two different things. With more and more nodes added a new scheme was required. IPv6 was created to overcome that limitation. IPv6 has 128 bits for its address space, a staggering 3.4x10 to the 38th power (340,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000) unique addresses. That many addresses allows for every item manufactured in the world to have its own unique address. In other words, every shoe, every candy bar, every milk carton, every box of tissue could have its own IPv6 address and we still wouldn't come close to exhausting all of the addresses.

Enter the IoT. In the early 1990s thinkers began discussing ways to connect more things via networks. In 1999 Kevin Ashton proposed the name Internet of Things. Their idea: connect common everyday things via networks.

The IoT is already being used at the Oregon Health Sciences University to track things, and in the future it will track people. Items used in their facilities are tagged with an identifying device which allows them to track their assets. If a pair of crutches is lost their system can find them. By the end of this year they plan on tagging clinicians and patients to help identify where they go and how they use their time to better understand how improvements can be made.

ABI Research estimates there will be 30 billion devices connected to the IoT by 2020.

Because the IoT uses information without our knowledge security and privacy concerns will arise. The things we purchase can be tracked without our knowledge, and that can be a huge issue for people. Many of these issues will need to be worked out in the future through new laws governing this new way of using computers and networks.

Today we are more and more inextricably connected to computers. We use them whether we realize it or not. Every purchase we make uses computers. Every car today has dozens of computers in it. And with the advent of IoT computers will be interwoven more and more into our lives.

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Links and more information:

The Internet of Things Means Business

Wikipedia's Internet of Things article

IPv4 and IPv6

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