An Intro to the Internet of Things

john barrettThe evolution of technology in the past few decades truly has transformed the way we interact and do business. As a species, we have had to learn and keep up with the latest and greatest technologies to stay current and to stay savvy. There is nothing that has had greater impact on our lives than the Internet and its vast interconnectivity. Today, there is anticipation that the next level of web technology will soon be a reality with the development of the Internet of Things, or the IoT.

Dr. John Barrett is the Head of Academic Studies at the Nimbus Centre for Embedded Systems Research at Cork Institute of Technology (CIT) and is Group Director of the Centre’s Smart Systems Integration Research Group. In a TED talk called “The Internet of Things”, Dr. Barrett spoke about IoT and how it affects the “digital universe of information” that exists in the modern world.

“We’re about to connect the physical world to the Internet.  The planet and everything on it will become things on the Internet of Things,” Dr. Barrett said. What does he mean that everything will be on the IoT? “I mean literally everything and anything.”

In his lecture, Dr. Barrett explains how exactly a real-world thing, like a chair, could be part of the IoT, turning it from a physical object into a “smart object.” This process, for any transformation from thing to smart thing in the IoT, requires a series of steps. The first is to give the thing a unique identity, a code that links to that one specific thing in the world. This way of identifying a thing can be done to anything – your car, where your work, even your dog. In this instance with the chair, this unique identity can reveal where the chair is located and who is sitting in it. The thing must be able to communicate wirelessly, and also must possess senses that share information about the thing and its environment (like a sensor in the chair to measure if someone is sitting on it). Finally, a thing connected to the IoT can be controlled remotely though tiny electronic circuits embedded in the smart object or in other smart things interacting with it.

“Instead of using Google to just search 4000 exabytes of information, I can do really useful things, like ask Google, ‘Where are my keys?’” Dr. Barrett jested, “because my keys are tagged objects on the Internet of Things.” Or, he could Google search the phrase, “Where is my child?” In the age of the IoT, even people can become traceable smart objects.

The impact of implementing the IoT is potentially immense. Along with this comes the issue of privacy. How could there really be privacy in a world of smart things? Realistically, there couldn’t be. Conceptually, privacy would be rendered “meaningless,” in the words of Dr. Barrett. While this would be a serious societal concern, the benefits of IoT capabilities arguably outweigh privacy infringements. Some of these capabilities could be lifesaving, like the ability of a chip in your heart monitor that warns you of an oncoming heart attack and automatically summons an ambulance for you. Is the possibility of new intrusions into your life so off-putting that you would reject the IoT?

The IoT seems an exciting if slightly unnerving future for us. Already millions of smart things have been created, and global governments and businesses are investing. Universal connectedness will be boosted exponentially with the new ability to interact with and learn about things as never before. This technology offers the potential capacity to access virtually limitless amounts of knowledge about anything. The social media of today will seem of minute scope when compared to IoT data. Internet gaming will be revolutionized and IoT technology lets the real world meld into the game. The amount of information available using IoT is essentially unbounded. According to Dr. Barrett, “It really only seems to be limited by our imagination.”

Photo credit: YouTube (TEDx Talks)

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