Internet-connected everything. Image: Shutterstock
There will be three times as many internet-connected things on Earth as there are humans within the next 10 years, according to a new look at the future of the internet of things.
We’ve slowly begun to see a rise in the number of internet-connected things—watches, thermostats, glasses, and even plants—but we’re still in the infancy of what’s likely to become a worldwide trend, according to more than 1,600 experts polled by the Pew Research Center.
“In 2008, the number of internet-connected devices first outnumbered the human population, and they have been growing far faster than we have,” Patrick Tucker, author of The Naked Future: What Happens In a World That Anticipates Your Every Move?, told Pew. “There will be 50 billion in 2020. These will include phones, chips, sensors, implants, and devices of which we have not yet conceived.”
The internet will become so common, the report suggests, that it will become “like electricity”—it’ll be everywhere, but you won’t really think about it. It's not the first time seemingly-insane numbers have been thrown out. Some want there to be as many as a "trillion sensors" on the same time scale.
Of the 1,606 experts polled, 83 percent said that the “internet of things will have widespread and beneficial effects on the everyday lives of the public by 2025.”
We already know a bit about what sorts of devices we can expect to be connected to the internet in some way, shape or form, because we’ve seen early versions of them.
"The scarce resource will continue to be human attention."
The experts Pew polled suggested that most cars, roadways, buildings, and other important infrastructure will automatically report their “state of wear and tear and provide alerts when repairs or upgrades are needed,” paper towel dispensers in restaurants will automatically alert a manager when they need to be refilled, most appliances will be able to be controlled remotely, and wearable and implantable health devices will become the norm, not the exception. You get the gist.
Of course, we’ve seen a backlash to things like Google Glass, which threaten to make connectivity so ever-present that people don’t seem to be willing to wear it (though, some people absolutely love it), not to mention that securing the internet of things seems to be a near-impossible task.
Though most of the experts—mostly college researchers, entrepreneurs, and authors—believe that this is coming and will benefit society, not everyone is so sure. Some believe that, with smartphones, laptops, tablets, and connected TVs, we already have the internet in far too many places.
“I’ve never been quite clear on where the demand is supposedly coming from. The scarce resource will continue to be human attention,” Karl Fogel, of Open Tech Strategies consulting firm, said. “There is a limit to the usefulness of devices that are worn in public but that demand attention because it is often socially and practically unacceptable to give those devices enough attention to make them worth the trouble of configuring and interacting with.”
In any case, the cost, size, and power demands of connecting to the internet are continuing to fall, so, if people show they want it, it’s going to happen. And there’ll be enough internet-connected things to outnumber us by a wide margin.