How Will the Internet of Everything Change Us?

The Internet of Everything is rising fast. But does it have a dark downside?
Posted October 1, 2014

Jeff Vance

What are you doing to prepare for the Internet of Everything? If you’re like most, probably not a lot. Early adopters may have installed smart light bulbs or a smart thermostat, but those applications just scratch the surface of how radically the Internet of Everything (IoE) movement could change modern life.

Consider just two use cases that illustrate how far we can push the idea of connectivity. The first comes from the Scotland where dairy farmers are connecting their cows – yes, cows – to the Internet in order to boost milk production.

Farmers using the Silent Herdsman tracking collar are able to monitor their herd’s daily activities, receiving notification of unusual behaviors that could be symptoms of medical problems. The collars also monitors other factors, such as milk yield and fertility.

Another example comes from the Santa Monica-based Early Warning Labs. This startup is developing a system to deliver “wide-area earthquake warnings” in order to reduce deaths, injuries, and property damage.

The current system pulls in data from Cal-Tech, UC-Berkeley, and the USGS. Early Warning Labs is developing a mobile app, Quakealert, which will not only warn users of a coming earthquake, but which will also ask users questions that can help researchers understand the aftereffects of a quake.

In other words, you will soon be able to connect through your smartphones to the same seismic monitoring tools used by top-flight research universities and the USGS. You’ll be able, in essence, to connect to the earth’s tectonic movements.

How close are we to the Internet of Everything?

Data is certainly accelerating rapidly. With storage so cheap that it’s practically free and with advanced search tools readily available to help us find all that stuff we stored in the first place, it’s often cheaper to keep every piece of data created than to purge it.

According to recent research by Gartner, by 2020 there will be 26 billion connected devices in the world.

That’s 26 billion devices spewing out a steady stream of data to be collected, stored, and analyzed.

However, that could be a low estimate. Cisco believes there will twice that number by 2020. According to Cisco, in 2012 there were 8.7 billion connected objects globally, which constituted 0.6 percent of the things in the world. By 2013, this number exceeded 10 billion.

Driven by a low cost per connection and the rapid growth in the number of machine-to-machine (M2M) connections, Cisco expects the number of connected objects to reach 50 billion by 2020 (2.7 percent of things in the world).

That 2.7 percent is a long ways away from “everything,” but if connectivity advances at an exponential rate, the day isn’t far off when most of the human-made things we encounter each day will have some sort of networking component. After all, even if Moore’s Law slows down, it will still eventually be so cheap to add networking capabilities that, even if they have no reason to connect a given thing, designers and engineers will add connectivity – because, well, you never know when you might want it.

Who expected we’d be connecting cows, after all?

To help you track the rise of the Internet of Everything, Cisco has set up a Connection Counter, and watching those devices come online is like watching the U.S. National Debt Clock in Times Square. The numbers are just too big to wrap your head around.

A downside to the Internet of Everything?

Of course there will be negatives attached to the IoE. Just as researchers have found that social media rewires your brain, often making people feel more lonely and jealous, I expect that the all-consuming connectedness of the IoE age could make us feel less, not more, connected.

We’ll be plenty connected, but just not to people.

You could make the case that we already spend the majority of our time talking to machines. Well, “to” isn’t the right word. We talk “through” them, sending emails, blasting out tweets, and updating our Facebook statuses.

We assume there are people on the other end of those communications, but the mere act of using a machine as an intermediary skews how we interact with others. It’s been well-documented that people communicating over the Internet are less civil, more extreme, and often downright mean.

As voice recognition software improves, when we start to literally “talk to” machines, rather than typing through them, how will that change how we maintain relationships, navigate the world around us, and even understand our own wants and needs?

Letting the Genie out of the Bottle

As new technologies catch on, the ways people find to exploit them always exceed our expectations.

For instance, many users abandon social networks, or at least value them less, because as soon as Facebook, Twitter, and Pintrest each gained critical mass, corporations rushed in and started to turn the “social” into yet another medium through which they could push ads. That’s to be expected.

Less so is the fact that entire industries have sprung up on these platforms.

Another expected behavior is the fact that scammers, burglars, racists, and plenty of other unsavory folks have flocked to social media.

Less expected was the unsettling reality that spies and terrorists would love social media. What would ISIS be without their go-to propaganda tool, social media? Iran and China have also leveraged social media to spy on dissidents and foreign officials. Oh, and let’s not forget our own government’s snooping, with the NSA busily mapping our social connections.

We know some of the risks that will come when everything that can be connected is. Hackers will attack home automation systems. Burglars will move from picking locks to hacking them. And scammers will do what they always do – scam. We also know that we don’t want corporations or the government tracking us in our own homes, but will we be able to stop them?

My goal here isn’t to stoke your paranoia, but to point out that once a technology genie is let out of the bottle, its uses will be as varied, for both good and ill, as the minds of those who choose to use it.

Once everything under the sun is connected, we should know by now to expect the unexpected.

But will we?

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

Tags: Web, Internet, social media, Internet of everything

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