The Internet of Things Is a Secular Transformation

While the IoT is already in the "here and now," it has yet to deploy its wings.
By Alain Louchez

In order to understand the potential revolutionary force of the Internet of Things, we need to grasp what it is and what makes it so important that in some countries, such as China and Germany, it has risen to a national priority. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, at the national IT Summit in Hamburg in October 2014, was unabashedly clear: "Connecting digital technologies with industrial products and logistics—Industry 4.0—Germany has a chance at taking the lead," she said.

What Is the Internet of Things?
Nicholas Carr, who has written extensively on the dangers of automation, describes the excitement surrounding the early vision of the Internet of Things in his 2014 book The Glass Cage—Automation and Us: "In the 1990s, just as the dot-com bubble was beginning to inflate, there was much excited talk about 'ubiquitous computing.' Soon, pundits assured us, microchips would be everywhere – embedded in factory machinery and warehouse shelving, affixed to the walls of offices and shops and homes, buried in the ground and floating in the air, installed in consumer goods and woven into clothing, even swimming around in our bodies. Equipped with sensors and transceivers, the tiny computers would measure every variable imaginable, from metal fatigue to soil temperature to blood sugar, and they'd send their readings via the internet, to data-processing centers, where bigger computers would crunch the numbers and output instructions for keeping everything in spec and in sync."

Commenting on the manufacturers that are "hoping to spearhead the creation of an 'internet of things' and "rushing to develop standards for sharing the resulting data," Carr adds, "even the faintest of the world's twitches and tremblings are being recorded as streams of binary digits."

On the Cusp of a New Paradigm
Whereas the "Internet of People" is well accepted and intuitively understood—after all, at its very beginning, the Internet was designed for people and was envisioned as "a globally interconnected set of computers through which everyone could quickly access data and programs from any site"—this is not the case for the Internet of Things, which offers new challenges.

Some solutions (in the home, for instance) deemed to reside in the Internet of Things do not use the Internet, and there is not a unique definition for the "things" that interface with the physical world at the border of the Internet of Things. Also, very importantly, there is not an Internet solely dedicated to things (at least for the time being). Therefore, the term "Internet of Things" is best understood as an image, a telling picture of a radical change. It is not, as such, a new science or technology.

Since things can communicate between themselves or with people, the Internet of Things is more or less composed of two subsets: 1) the Industrial Internet of Things or enterprise IoT, (or machine-to-machine [M2M] communications), for which there is no or limited human interaction, and 2) the Consumer Internet of Things, for which human interaction is central to the solution. The delineation between the two, which have a codependent relationship, is helpful since the issues, purpose and scope are different. The Industrial IoT (M2M) has been around for quite some time and is a critical enabler of the Consumer IoT.

However, a definition is no substitute for an explanation.

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