Let’s start with the elephant in the room. As names go for something so potentially spectacular and world-changingly cutting edge, the “internet of things” leaves a lot to be desired. It’s ineloquent and clunky. I’m not even sure it makes a lot of sense. It is like saying you are accessing this blog on the “internet of websites”.
The internet of things (often reduced to IoT) refers to the connectivity of a range of devices that receive and send data via the internet. It’s truly fascinating, and like a lot of burgeoning technology connected with big data and AI, we have barely scratched the surface.
Ostensibly, this is about smart technology getting smarter, and the sky is the limit. In fact, if you’ll allow me to pick such metaphorical language apart, the sky absolutely is not the limit as data is transferred around via satellites at near instantaneous speeds.
We have smart phones, smart buildings, smart vehicles, smart cities, smart roads, smart lighting, smart shopping, smart factories, smart farms…in fact, it is getting a little hard to think of something that this remarkable technology cannot be applied to. Don’t take my word for it – have a Google and prefix something with the word “smart”. You’ll be amazed.
Much of this smart technology works by gathering data via the cloud, combining it with other salient information and then applying the conclusions and solutions that are subsequently drawn. AI has moved on so much that a great deal of this functionality is completely automatic, with no need for any kind of human intervention.
It may be going in an odd direction though. Let’s ponder a fictional, but entirely feasible smart day.
The alarm on your smartphone talks to your heating system, and if it’s too cold in the morning, the heating will come on at a level that suits you half an hour before you are due to get up from your smart bed which has been monitoring your unconscious behaviour and has attempted to make various adjustments overnight to give you the best sleep possible whilst also calculating your sleep IQ. Yes. Really.
As you get up, the smart coffee machine whirs into life as you begin your morning ablutions on your smart toilet with heated seat. You don’t wipe yourself, obviously – what are you, a caveman? - and as for flushing, well, who has time for that these days? You begin your smart shower, which, naturally, means that the temperature is exactly as you like it and only uses water when you are in situ, whilst playing a gentle, ambient, early morning playlist to gently rouse you to take on the world.
As you walk out of your shower, the water stops automatically, and you grab your towel, heated, just in time, via your smart towel rail. You migrate from the bathroom back into your bedroom and the music follows you, perhaps changing to a higher tempo to ensure that you are wide awake and you grab your neatly pressed clothes from a smart wardrobe.
After dressing – still a depressingly manual task – you wonder into the kitchen, and the music goes off and the news and weather comes on the side of your smart fridge. You take a coffee from your smart coffee maker (no pouring for you, naturally) and you wait patiently for a few seconds as your smart toaster prepares your breakfast of choice. Obviously, you have everything you need for your breakfast, as your smart fridge had alerted Avoca that you were running low on organic yak milk and virgin llama butter.
Adequately satiated, you quickly return to the bathroom to clean your teeth with a smart toothbrush, which automatically increases the pressure when you reach for your back molars to compensate for the weak tendons in your wrist.
You head towards the door which unlocks as you approach it and locks as you leave. Seriously, who has time to use keys in 2018? The car door opens too just before you reach your vehicle, and as you get in the back and buckle up, you barely notice that the seat is already warm, and the ambient temperature is just as you like it. You boot up your laptop and go over the figures on that spreadsheet that your manager wants a report on this morning, and the car pulls away, obviously taking the quickest most efficient route to the nearest car park with available spaces.
As you arrive at work and walk through the automatic doors, that second cup of coffee means that you have to answer a call of nature, and an app on your phone tells you to avoid the first restroom as Brian from accounts had a curry last night and has just made a visit. To be fair, Brian and his bowels remain anonymous, but the odour warning is all you need to know.
You arrive at your desk and admire the pristine yucca plant that is thriving because its needs are carefully monitored by wireless monitors and take a few moments to watch the uber healthy and happy fish in their smart aquarium. Lights go on and off as you and your colleagues have need of them, and the temperature of the workspace is always at a calculated optimum level to ensure maximum productivity.
Your working day is more stimulating than is used to be, as RPA bots do so much of the repetitive tasks, but you have noticed that there are less people to discuss the latest dramas in Westeros around the water cooler, but on the plus side, the water never runs out and it’s always just the right kind of cold.
Another day over, your car drives you home, stopping to pick up the pizza you ordered as a midweek treat on an app on your smartphone.
I would suggest to you that much of this technology, whilst brilliant and innovative, is taking the idea of luxury to a ridiculous level and is frivolous. The IoT is capable of much more useful and noble tasks.
The way it can be applied, for example, medically and environmentally, are absolutely for the betterment of humanity, and the developments here are truly exciting. This is the most intoxicating thing about the internet of things – the staggering potential. Ultimately, it is not going to be about smart beds and smart towel rails, but about saving energy, growing food, making us healthier, making the world safer and improving the quality of life of everyone.
I am also confident that all the data that these devices are generating has potential that we are yet to understand. There are estimates that by the start of the next decade that there will be at least 20 billion devices sending data to the cloud, and it is entirely likely that this figure will be significantly higher. Zettabytes will become yottabytes, and unsupervised AI will spring many surprises.
We have only just begun the journey with IoT, and as AI and big data technology develops, the possibilities are literally endless.
That name though. The internet of things.
I hate it.