At first, the only devices we connected to the Internet were computers. Now our phones, TVs, and even some of our cars are web-capable. Before long, it’s possible your coffee maker, dishwasher, and smartphone will be talking to each other, and you.

In a recent study, research firm Gartner predicted the market for Internet of Things (IoT) technology will grow by over 36 percent next year. The premise behind the IoT is the integration and interconnection of many of the electronics we use in our daily lives. Networking these devices will make our homes and offices smarter, more automated, more efficient, and probably pretty awesome, too.

Toasters on Twitter? Not Quite.

The key to understanding the IoT is that virtually every electronic device could be connected, and potential applications are limited only by our imagination. Pacemakers could send out information on their users’ health. Your car can give your location and ETA to your house, so the oven is preheated, the fireplace is lit, and the lights are on by the time you walk through the door. In fact, all of the places you regularly visit will be able to sense your arrival and adapt to your user preferences automatically.

Refrigerators are also commonly used as examples of the IoT’s potential. If your fridge is smart enough to know the groceries you typically buy, and how well stocked you are on those items, you may never need to write out a grocery list again. Just go to the store, access your fridge from your phone’s app, and make sure your macaroni always has cheese, your peanut butter always has jelly, and your eggs always have bacon.

The IoT will be important for business, too. In Chattanooga, TN, the municipal electric grid is already networked with sensors that deliver real-time information on network status. Mass transit systems will be able to share constantly updating data on traffic, rerouting and altering capacity as needed. Machines at manufacturing plants can link with inventory control and sales to maximize productivity.

Where’s the Data Going?

The IoT has the potential to make a lot of very cool things possible, but not all of us want the world to know quite so much about our daily routines. The data the IoT collects won’t just be going to you. Device makers may choose to sell the data they collect to your insurer, landlord, and potential employers. And my tin foil hat isn’t on too tight: all three of these examples already use social media to screen/monitor clients, employees, and tenants. It’s no stretch to imagine they’d use other information available to them as well.

Presumably, every device will have some sort of privacy settings, so your car doesn’t send a tweet to the police about how fast you’re driving home from the liquor store. This is where people have to be smart. Again, using social media as an example, be aware of these settings, and never share information with anyone you wouldn’t want to see it. Even if you’re smart with your sharing permissions, it’s worth considering the potential security risks of harvesting so much data. There’s always someone out there who wants your personal information, and no network is 100 percent secure.

So Bring It On, or Skynet in the Making?

What are your thoughts on the IoT concept? Do the possibilities excite you, or do you fear the day our lamps and microwaves become self-aware and rise up against us? What are some of the best possible uses for the technology, or the most outlandish?

If the IoT does become reality, you’re going to have a lot more devices on your home network competing for bandwidth. Is your Internet connection ready for that?


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