Why you should care
Because the Internet of Things is like a Lorde song: You didn’t know about it yesterday, but after you’ve heard it, it’ll be Stuck. In. Your. Head.
Look, not to overplay it, but: The bots are coming. Except they’re not bots. They’re things — things that we already wear, hold and handle. Every day.
That’s the truth behind a phrase that’s about to explode in the media: the Internet of Things. Add that to a catalog of stuff you need to know about but probably haven’t heard of yet, along with bitcoin and the cloud. And you do need to know about these things — and not only because knowing is worth $3 billion (the price Google paid last week for Nest Labs, the smart home-device manufacturer and currently the highest-profile Internet of Things company out there).
So, you heard it here first: In six years, the majority of devices connected to the Internet won’t be PCs and iPhones; they’ll be things. More specifically:
Number of internet-enabled devices — beyond your Fitbit, your Roomba, your Smart Scale — that will be online by the year 2050, according to a Cisco study released this fall.
That’s about seven connected things for every person on Earth. Morgan Stanley experts say that’s a lowball figure, pegging the actual number at closer to 75 billion.
And seriously: When we say things, we mean things. Stuff. The change in your pockets aside, we’re really talking about everything: your home thermometer taking your sick kid’s temperature; your sneakers; your smart egg carton pinging you with a reminder to stop by the grocery store for a dozen more. Then again, it’s not all new: We’ve already got lightbulbs that can be dimmed from a smartphone, refrigerators that display Twitter feeds (orange juice and Ashton Kutcher, anyone?) and keyless locks: buh-bye, latchkey kids. Plus better-connected railroad systems, building automation, even clean-green energy systems: stuff that isn’t so sexy but can and will change the way we live, day to day.
But we can’t guarantee it’s entirely for the better — there’ll be more data, and while some of it will be helpful, some of it will cause you to lose your hat and cry ”SNOWDEN!” Parents can know when their kids get home by checking when doors unlock (not great for your 16-year-old’s social life); corporations can (better) track how and when customers use their appliances, and use the info to build better marketing campaigns — or better devices. Invasive? Maybe. Then again, maybe it’s the end of those pesky telemarketing calls during dinner. Who needs clunky data-gathering when it seeps in silently, constantly, as you go about living your everyday life?
Of course, there’s a flip side to every life ”improvement.” We’ve already got real reason to worry over hacking and phishing, thanks to a cyberscam this month — and it was launched not through a sketchy Twitter link or an email from a Nigerian prince, but through a refrigerator.
So, whether the future lies in friendly Jetsons-like robotic maids or a collaborationist fridge … they’ll get us with convenience.