As billions of devices
connect, planet grows
‘central nervous system’
The graphic used in the IBM video to show the world “growing a central nervous system.” Click image to enlarge.
YOU ARE READING THIS on the Internet, something we have all come to take for granted as part of our everyday lives.
But, lurking in the background, is a vast revolution – already under way – that is forecast to change our lives even more dramatically than all the people with whom we are now interconnected.
It’s called the “Internet of Things” and was first explored in detail by the world-famous consulting group McKinsey & Company three years ago. Around the same time, it was discussed in an IBM video. (Watch the video below the fold.)
As computers the size of postage stamps with connectivity to the web emerge, and cheap sensors proliferate, the number of “things” going online is expected to reach 50 billion within a few years – compared to the mere two billion people expected to be online.
Are you ready for it?
HERE IS A SNIPPET from the liner notes to the IBM video featuring, Mike Wing, Andy Stanford-Clark and John Tolva.
“Over the past century but accelerating over the past couple of decades, we have seen the emergence of a kind of global data field.
The computer the size of a postage stamp that is capable of connecting to the Internet. Click image to enlarge.
“The planet itself – natural systems, human systems, physical objects – have always generated an enormous amount of data, but we didn’t used to be able to hear it, to see it, to capture it. Now we can because all of this stuff is now instrumented. And it’s all interconnected, so now we can actually have access to it. “
Are you trembling yet? You should be.
“In effect the planet has grown a central nervous system. There are about a billion people using the Internet (today) and that is set to grow to about two billion in the next couple of years. (This was written in 2010; we are there already!)
“It wont be long, it may even have happened already, that there will be more things on the Internet than there will be people on the Internet.”
The first and so far only major media outlet to explore this topic was the weekend news magazine BBC Newsnight over last weekend.
The online brief about the program The internet of things: a ‘field day for cyber attackers’? is dated Sept. 20.
Find out how to connect a cow to the Internet in this podcast from BBC News. Click image to visit the site and listen.
“Is it possible to connect objects such as cars, cattle and trees via the internet? If so, the potential for gleaning data becomes phenomenal.
“We anticipate that the number of things connected to the internet will grow to about 50 billion devices by the year 2020,” says Ian Foddering, chief technology officer at Cisco UK.”
IN THE SHOW, David Grossman reports on the tiny embedded computers that could change life as we know it – and provide huge new opportunities for cyber attackers.
“The Internet has already changed our world so profoundly that it is hard to argue with the idea that we are now living through an age as transformative and extraordinary as the agricultural and industrial revolutions,” Grossman intones, seriously, in his set-up.
“Our revolution – the computer revolution – has barely got started. Up till now we have had an Internet made-up largely of people. …
“But the number of things on the Internet is going to be vastly bigger than the number of people. And, when the things take over our lives are going to change completely.”
Then, on camera comes Ian Fodderling, CEO of networking giant Cisco’s UK division.
The BBC News web site on the “Internet of Things” – with its dire warning about opportunities for hackers. Click image to enlarge.
“Today we are somewhere in the region of 10- to 15-billion things connected to the Internet. They range from the traditional things like the smartphone and tablets and laptops. But increasingly they will move to things we aren’t familiar with being connected.”
Are you ready for this? Oh, it’s horse manure, you say? Well, you would not be far from the truth.
“An example would be cattle – checking the well being of cattle while they’re out in the field, through to trees, so that we can monitor the environment around them….” Fodderling speaks, directly into the camera, at me and you.
“We anticipate that the number of things connected to the Internet [will] grow to about 50 billion devices by the year 2020.”
Presenter Grossman comes back to explain the technological innovations behind this seemingly amazing development.
“What’s driving this are tiny linked sensors and computers linked via the internet to vast cloud servers. The uses, well, pretty limitless,” he says.
He goes on to list a few ….
… a front door can be opened for visitors remotely
… pot plants that tweet you to tell you they need watering
… a coffee maker that brews up the perfect cup of coffee because it sensed that you have woken up (from your bed monitor!)
… and sensors that know when you have gone out so they turn the heating down and the lights out.
In case you are not worried yet, Grossman looks into a crystal ball to reveal the shocking future.
“Among the new devices heading our way is a computer the size of a postage stamp that is capable of connecting to the Internet,” he says.
“Also, a chair that monitors when someone is sitting in it, when that person gets up – and is able to tweet all about it on Twitter.” (The uses of this could be for medical purposes, say if an old person has not been mobile for several hours, help could be summoned.)
Finally, a warning.
“And it seems there is no way of avoiding this technology,” Grossman says. “Our homes will be connected to the Internet whether we want it or not.”
THE BBC, HOWEVER, was not first to press with this insight into the future awaiting us all.
The McKinsey & Company study from 2010 on the “Internet of things.” Click image to enlarge.
Three years ago in March 2010 the esteemed consultancy company McKinsey & Company published an exhaustive analysis of the topic in The Internet of Things.
Authors Michael Chui, Markus Löffler and Roger Roberts’ paper is long and intense, but worth reading.
“More objects are becoming embedded with sensors and gaining the ability to communicate,” they write. “The resulting information networks promise to create new business models, improve business processes, and reduce costs and risks.”
But, what about us? The poor plebeians of the world, defenseless against our furniture becoming tattlers about all our transgressions?
“In what’s called the Internet of Things, sensors and actuators embedded in physical objects – from roadways to pacemakers – are linked through wired and wireless networks, often using the same Internet Protocol (IP) that connects the Internet. These networks churn out huge volumes of data that flow to computers for analysis.”
Well, resistance is futile, as Patrick Stewart so famously said in one of my all-time favorite sci-fi flicks.
“Pill-shaped micro-cameras already traverse the human digestive tract and send back thousands of images to pinpoint sources of illness.
“Billboards in Japan peer back at passersby, assessing how they fit consumer profiles, and instantly change displayed messages based on those assessments,” McKinsey writes.
Watch the video from IBM and decide for yourself. Are you ready for everything you sit on, touch, watch on TV, take from the ’fridge to be broadcast to the entire planet?
I’m not sure I am.
Fasten your seat belts. It’s gonna be a bumpy ride.
But, seriously, it poses huge public policy questions about privacy and data sharing that have not begun to be explored.
It is time to begin the discussion. Let’s do it right here! Right now! In the comments.
FEEDBACK: Contact site admin directly