Chances you’ve probably heard someone talking about the Internet of Things, but what exactly is it? Different people have different ideas when it comes to defining what it is, what it does, and what it means for us. So to keep you informed, we’ll try to answer all those questions in this article.
What is IoT?
The Internet of Things, or “IoT”, is a system of uniquely identified devices, objects, mechanical and digital machines that can transfer data over a network without requiring human-to-human, or human-to-computer, interaction.
We use IoT devices in our everyday life: things like smartphones, Apple Watches, Fitbits, smart thermostats, locks, cameras — the list can go on and on. And in the near future, almost anything you can think of will be able to be transformed into an IoT device. Seriously. All you’ll need is to assign a unique IP address to a new device and provide it with the ability to transfer data over a network. That’s of course a simplified version of the actual process. And it probably requires more work and knowledge than your standard weekend project, but basically, any natural or man-made object can be turned into an IoT thing.
Though there are only about 2³², or 4-billion, IP address values available. Which means with an earth population of 6 billion, not every person can get a unique IP address. And that’s where IPv6 comes to rescue — a 128-bit value, which is 16-bytes long. As a result we get 2¹²⁰ possible IP addresses using IPV6. How big is that? Well, with those numbers, “we could assign an IPv6 address to every atom on the surface of the earth, and still have enough addresses left to do another 100+ earths.” So, it looks like we’ve got more than enough for the time being.
But what is it that IoT devices do and what it means for us — Let’s try to figure that out.
What IoT Does?
The IoT is a giant network of connected “things”. But what exactly does it connect? The Internet of Things connects the physical world with the Internet. We can observe and control IoT devices from anywhere in the world. And when it comes to an actual, practical use of IoT devices — to be honest — it seems like its use is only limited by our imagination.
And since we all need to begin somewhere, one of the first examples of an IoT appliance was a Coke machine in the early 1980s. Carnegie Mellon University students David Nichols, Ivor Durham, John Zsarnay, and Mike Kazar used the Internet to connect to their departmental soda machine to check on the stock and how cold it was. How cool is that in 1980s?
The “smart” Coke vending machine was just the beginning of endless opportunities that have been developed over the past few decades. By integrating more and more senses in IoT devices, we get access to unlimited data. Let’s take a smartphone as an example. The data it collects includes your location, contacts, texts, media, browsing history, behavior, etc. Now think about all other IoT devices that you might or might not be aware of. They all use data: in 2013, IoT devices generated 3.1 zettabytes of data. One year later, in 2014, that number jumped to 8.6 zettabytes. And in 2018 that number is expected to soar to 400 zettabytes.
The increase is incredible whether or not you realize how much a zettabyte is — one zettabyte is roughly the equivalent of 36,000 years of HD TV streaming. What we are talking about is 400 zettabytes in 2018… And it’s just the beginning.
With IoT devices we can build smart homes, smart cities, and overall a better Earth to improve energy efficiency, reduce waste, and enhance air quality. The opportunities are unlimited — the Internet of Things can help us understand and improve how we work and live.
What IoT Means For Us?
Will Internet of Things bring utopia? Or will it just be a technocracy ruled by technology companies? Along with endless opportunities come changes: changes to how we work, live, and interact. And what’s even more important — the IoT brings changes to our privacy. Let’s take a moment to consider how much data is collected by IoT devices. Every step, every word, every thought (based on your browsing history) is monitored. With IoT, privacy is quickly becoming meaningless. When you know how individual people use individual products, it’ll completely transform the face of advertising and marketing industries.
Though a bigger issue is security; if someone hacks your smart coffee maker and turns it off from a preset mode — yes, it’ll be terrible to wake up to an empty cup of coffee. However, that’s not the worst case scenario of what can possibly happen if someone decides to exploit IoT vulnerabilities.
This concludes What is IoT, What is Does, and What Does it Mean For Us, and it kicks off our series of IoT posts. In our next post we’ll discuss Internet of Things privacy issues, security concerns, and ways to protect yourself from them.