The Internet of Things is one of the latest buzzwords of 2013; however, the concept has actually been around since 1999. Imagine a future where everything contains sensors that are connected to the internet in one way or another, and instead of people recording data, machines do it. That future is already here.

In 2008, the number of devices connected to the internet surpassed the number of humans on Earth. By 2020, the number of devices connected to the internet are expected to be in excess of 50 billion. The vast majority of these devices will simply be recording as much data as possible about everything, in order to greatly increase efficiency and productivity, while decreasing waste and overall cost.

So why do we need such a future? Essentially, humans generally suck at organizing data. Even for those who are great at it, it still takes time and money to sift through mountains of data. The accuracy of such information is also questionable as it must be entered by a human, and no human is perfect. Because of this, information gathered by “smart” devices will provide accurate data that can then be used to make accurate decisions.

Consider the following example of a future where everything is “smart.”

It’s a cold, Wednesday morning in February and Bob has a doctor’s appointment at 9:00. At 7:30, his smartphone receives an email that his appointment will be delayed until 10:00. His smartphone then sends a signal to his alarm clock to turn on a half hour later, giving Bob a bit more sleep. When Bob’s alarm goes off, the email is displayed on the TV in his bedroom to prevent the panic of thinking he is late when he isn’t.

As Bob gets out of bed, his coffee maker downstairs automatically starts, while his tablet downloads the morning paper. As Bob goes into the living room, his TV turns on to the channel that it knows Bob likes to watch first thing in the morning.

In order to get to his appointment on time, Bob’s car knows that Bob must leave the house no later than 9:20. At 9:05, his car turns itself on to warm up based on the outside temperature. On his way to the doctors office, his car receives an alert that there was an accident on the route it had chosen for Bob. It then automatically re-routes him around the accident to get him to his appointment on time.

As Bob walks into the doctor’s office, his smartphone alerts the receptionist that he has arrived, while Bob’s medical history is automatically downloaded to his doctor’s computer. While Bob is seeing his doctor, his car checks for the most economical gas stations nearest to the doctor’s office, so that Bob can get gas on the way home.

While such a future seems like something straight out of a movie, it’s the kind of future that is already becoming possible with the Internet of Things. In next week’s column, I’ll discuss some of the current technology that makes up the Internet of Things, as well as some of the implications of such a future.


This article first appeared in Memorial University’s student newspaper: The Muse March 28, 2013

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