A refrigerator that tells you when the milk is about to go bad, a home security system that sends images to your smartphone, and, soon enough, a minibar refrigerator that knows your preferences and stocks itself accordingly - these are all part of the new Internet of Things, and they are all very exciting developments to people such as Jason Hope, an Arizona-based philanthropist, technology entrepreneur, and futurist.
Others have increasingly begun to share Hope's enthusiasm for products that are interconnected and networked. In May 2014, the Pew Research Internet Project canvassed 1,606 experts in the field of technology, asking them: "The evolution of embedded devices and the Internet/Cloud of Things—As billions of devices, artifacts, and accessories are networked, will the Internet of Things have widespread and beneficial effects on the everyday lives of the public by 2025?"
A great majority, 83 percent, of the experts responded ‘Yes’ to the question, while only 17 percent responded negatively. Several experts expanded on their answers, creating a picture of what people can expect when it comes to the Internet of Things.
What is the Internet of Things?
People are already encountering the Internet of Things in their daily lives, notes Jason Hope. "The Internet of Things is already upon us, but by 2025, it will be in full swing,” he predicts. “The potential of this phenomenon is almost as exciting as the ‘dot com’ era of the late ‘90s, except now we have the technology, and we have the visionaries to make it happen.”
One existing example of the Internet of Things is the smart thermostat, such as the one produced by Nest. The Nest thermostat goes a step beyond the standard programmable thermostat. It learns people's preferences and becomes able to program itself. It can sense when a person is home and adjust the temperature up or down accordingly.
The Internet of Things can also get personal. For example, currently existing products such as the FitBit tracker count how many steps a person takes, monitors his or her sleeping habits, and connects to a computer or smartphone via WiFi, which allows a person to keep tracking of his or her activity and see how it is changing over time. The devices become accustomed to a person's habits and bases any information or recommendations made off an individual’s particular needs.
Future developments may be even more useful and exciting. "What it means for consumers moving forward is that they will have the ability to control their home, their cars, their kitchen appliances, all either automatically or from their smartphone," says Jason Hope.
One example cited in the Pew canvassing was a carton or bottle of milk with a sensor built into it. The sensor could send an alert to the owner to warn them that the milk was almost empty. The sensor could also be trained to go off when a person was near a grocery store. Before the milk was purchased, the sensor could alert the manager of the grocery store when it was nearing the sell-by date, so that the manager could mark it down or remove it from the shelf.
Fitness trackers are expected to expand by 2025, as well. While today's trackers focus on steps walked, activity and sleep, there's no reason why devices can't also begin to monitor a patient's vital signs and send them to medical providers, as needed.
The devices won't only be for personal or individual use. The Internet of Things can prove to be beneficial for governments and private businesses, too. GPS sensors can help cities manage the flow of traffic, diverting cars to one street when another becomes backed up or giving commuters information on the best route to take based on current traffic patterns. Garbage cans can be programed to let companies know when they need to be emptied, and paper towel and toilet paper dispensers can be programmed to let the maintenance staff know when they need to be refilled.
What It Means
While exciting, the arrival of the Internet of Things does raise some concerns, according to Pew's findings. One concern focuses on the issue of privacy, already a touchy subject for many. When everything is connected, people's personal data will be gathered and potentially put on display. For some, the added convenience create by a world filled with interconnected objects will outweigh the drawbacks of revealing personal data or of giving away too much information.
The Internet of Things also has the potential to change the way people interact with each other. It could potentially make customer service more efficient, as a person could use a device to send the necessary information to a company. Based on the information received, the company could send a response to the customer to let him or her know what the problem is or to recommend a solution.
The Internet of Things is already here, and its impact is starting to be felt by many.
“I think 2025 is even a conservative estimate, to be honest. Technology is advancing at unprecedented rates, and it’s showing absolutely no signs of slowing down,” Jason Hope predicts. “The demand is there for the technology, and as long as that demand continues to rise, the technology will soon arrive to meet that demand."