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An internet of everything

In the beginning, the internet was built around huge computers and universities around the world. Then came the PC, the laptop, the mobile phone and then? Almost anything you can imagine. Now imagine a world with an internet of everything…

In the beginning, the internet was built around huge computers and universities around the world. Then came the PC, the laptop, the mobile phone and then? Almost anything you can imagine. Now imagine a world with an internet of everything

Always on. Everything connected. An internet of everything couldn’t be possible without the advent of version 6 of the Internet Protocol (otherwise known as IPv6), which permits for an unimaginably large number of devices to exist on the internet.

However, despite this unbelievably massive and permissive number, the available bandwidth isn’t quite so accommodating. But for the purposes of this foray into the greater “What if?”, we must assume the bandwidth question is answered shortly, succinctly and successfully.

To be perfectly honest, I really hadn’t given much attention to the idea of an internet of everything, despite the relative age of the idea. That was until I read the provocative and cerebrally lubricating CNN article discussing the possibility of an internet for every kind of object.

The idea certainly seems as appealing as it does inevitable, given the accelerating pace of communication technology. But what are the implications of an internet of everything?

Where advertising, demographics and privacy converge

Right now, web services like BrightKite and Pownce support geotagging, allowing people to post messages onto the web, which includes information about where they are. Apple’s iPhone also supports geotagging services, enabling web services like Google Maps to serve up more specific information, depending on where you are.

But this isn’t just about you anymore, is it? In this new interconnected web of objects, where you are only part of the picture; those things close to you become part of the picture, too.

Let’s say you’re at a museum, instead of walking around wearing a pair of headphones hired at the main entrance kiosk, you’re wearing your own, connected to an iPod, which is using Bluetooth to stream the audio narrative. Each display you visit and listen to is a net-enabled object, and as you listen, you become a subscriber. A few seconds pass and your friends see this object appear on your lifestream (or through social media & networking services like Twitter, Pownce et cetera), with the option to visit the object and view some of the information describing what it is.

But this is just a museum. What about if you’re at a cinema? Within your lifestream, your friends would see a short overview of the movie and a link to the trailer. Or what about if you just bought a gift for a friend? They’d see that gift, a description with pricing options and availability.

It’s at this point that all of this advertising, powered by a rich blend of demographics and privacy concerns come together. Here’s where the real deep thinking has to take place because these are the real issues. The technology is probably trivial, but the potential implications for privacy are critically balanced and nuanced.

An example of how things could go wrong would be objects hijacking your lifestream, pouring useless, self-promotional offers and promotions into your feeds. And because these objects are likely to be powered by tiny RFID strips, anything could be usurped into forming an illicit grid of unsolicited advertising.

And since your mobile phone and your laptop are likely to be leaving a digital trail of the places you’ve been and faces you’ve seen, the possibility of someone gaining free access to such things and invading your privacy are truly enormous.

RFID — tagging anything in the world!

Fortunately, a good number of the objects in our new internet of everything could be “dumb” objects, their existence marked simply by an RFID tag. In simple terms, an RFID (an acronym of Radio-frequency-identification) is a small electrical component that’s encoded with data that describes and identifies the object it’s attached to. These things don’t require any electrical charge to work.

But not all of the objects would exist this way. Many would be powered devices, which creates a very different dilemma.

Powering the always on generation

We have a crisis. Not one of people or politics, but one of power. More specifically, we’re in the midst of an energy crisis. It’s a crisis that’s presently being exacerbated by a myriad of energy-hungry gadgets — all flashing lights and wirelessly connected.

And our appetite for gadgets of all descriptions would appear to be insatiable. For environmentalists, this gadget energy crisis is crying out for a gadget energy manifesto: support for piezoelectric recharging; inclusion of mechanics for kinetic recharging; use of photovoltaic materials for solar recharging; standardized batteries.

But that’s really only the beginning. The number and the type of objects connected to this internet of everything would be truly staggering. So in addition to solving the issue of bandwidth, we would also need to address the much more pressing issue of power consumption. A problem that isn’t going to be solved so easily.

An object oriented future

In the end, an internet of everything has all of the ingredients necessary for coming to fruition. Things like Cloud Computing and an increasing emphasis on more environmentally aware, so-called “green IT” infrastructures certainly pave the way…

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By Wayne Smallman

Wayne is the man behind the Blah, Blah! Technology website, and the creator of the Under Cloud, a digital research assistant for journalists and academics.

2 replies on “An internet of everything”

Excellent post, Wayne. I have to think the challenge of advertisers in this new environment is going to avoid being intrusive and breaching trust while utilizing the emerging landscape to reach customers in a new way.

I also have to wonder what options we will have in the future if we want to shut off. It wasn’t too long ago when I didn’t even need a cell phone, and now I can’t turn it off. Do we always need to know that there’s a sale on beets at the Safeway down the street?

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