Almost every recent article about the Internet of Things claims it will bring incredible benefits to people and consumers. I wanted to investigate a bit a more in detail and I found just a few up to now.
The Internet of Things is a relatively new technology, coined in 1999 by a British technology pioneer (but entered only in 2013 in the Oxford English Dictionary) that has already delivered a lot of exciting new developments.
The problem is that the vast majority of them are “nice to have” and not game changers for the quality of our life, like light bulbs that change depending on your mood, refrigerators that can talk with your smartphone, sensors that alert the driver when tire pressure is low, thermostats that remember use cycles and can be adjusted from anywhere, security systems that can notify you of issues etc… IoT at this level will continue to be incremental, but not fundamental, a part probably a few “gadgets” in healthcare and personal security.
But don’t worry, the fact is that this is not exactly IoT, this is just devices that communicate with your smartphone as an interface. I struggle to consider IoT a fridge that can read the expiry date of the milk and reminds it with a text on your phone. The need is having milk tomorrow morning for breakfast, the reminder is just a proxy. IoT will be a fridge that reads the expiry date of the milk and autonomously orders it online (because you have previously allowed it to do so), to the vendor selling it at the lowest price, after having checked on the calendar on your mobile that you will really be at home tomorrow morning. Back from office, the milk is in front of your house door.
To achieve this vision, we need IoT and artificial intelligence to work together. And we are moving in that direction. Today individuals are estimated to create 70 percent of all data in the world, but by the end of this decade, machine-to-machine communications will grow and 40 percent of all data is predicted to come from sensors. And AI is improving as well.
In the meantime the bulk of the benefits generated by IoT will go to manufacturers, agriculture, retail and other sectors and it means consumers will indirectly benefit of incremental quality. There are many real examples of IoT improving processes, like wirelessly connected sensors used for smart farming, where fertilizer and water are automatically distributed across a farm to increase efficiency, automated inventory-control systems preventing stores to run out of stock, software that identifies and fixes logistics issues before they actually occur etc… My only concern here, is that the value generated by this increase in productivity will be held by the companies, rather being transformed in price reductions to the final consumer.
So when are we going to see big benefits for the people? They will be slow because dependent upon two main facts: enough “dumb” devices (without interface with humans) connected and investments from Governments and large associations having the public interest at the first place. Relax, I expect it to be after 2020, because by 2020, it’s estimated that the IoT ecosystem will expand from a minimum of 50 billion to a maximum of 212 billion connected “things” and maybe the current economic crisis will have ended up, leaving new resources to countries for investments. I’m talking about intelligent management traffic systems, that through drive-less cars, smart traffic lights, smart parking meters, electric vehicle charging, and real time analysis will reduce the amount of gas we waste sitting in traffic jams. I’m thinking about smart grids which match power generated to consumers’ electricity needs. I have in my mind hospitals that monitor remotely the vital signs of all the patients in the area and anticipate required actions in case of need; today hospitals struggle to assess and take care of the patients that they have. This is not a sci-fi vision, this will be when IoT will really provide huge social benefits also to that part of the population without a smartphone or another ad-hoc device.