IoT For & From Beginners: What is the “Internet of Things”?

If you work in tech (or business, or finance, or even just own an Alexa) you might’ve heard of the Internet of Things, or IoT. Even though I’ve known about Alexa and Google Home for what feels like forever (in fact, my partner’s family has an Alexa that they set up to make cat noises) I had never heard of this expression until recently. So, what is the Internet of Things, and why is it important?

What IoT Is

Think: Alexa, Google Home, Fitbit, Google Nest, Ring, Wink, Apple Watch, and even virtual reality tech like the Oculus Quest. These technologies connect our homes, our tech, and our hearts (think tracking heart rate with Apple Watch or Fitbit) to what is truly becoming the World Wide Web. More formally, Wikipedia says “the Internet of things (IoT) describes the network of physical objects—“things”—that are embedded with sensors, software, and other technologies for the purpose of connecting and exchanging data with other devices and systems over the Internet.” Innovations like wi-fi and Bluetooth have been central to the dissemination of IoT tech.

Why We Should Pay Attention to IoT

One major reason to pay attention to the rise of IoT is just that – it’s RISING, and FAST. Take a look at the history. According to Simon IoT, the jump from the first IoT device (a smart toaster) to the conception of the IoT idea took nine years. From there the leaps between milestones got smaller and smaller.

Adapted from Simon IoT

We need to pay attention to IoT’s rise so that we don’t lose control of it. We ought to watch for responsible innovation very closely here. Smart devices have already been used for abuse in a culture that largely evades fixing problems of domestic abuse or protecting those at greatest risk. For example, there have been cases where an ex-partner uses smart devices or account information to cyberstalk a victim. We can and should build with these possibilities in mind.

Another reason to pay attention is that there’s lots of potential. People and companies are already paying attention to the Internet of Things and considering how the future will be shaped by it. By paying attention, you start to become part of the conversation on the future. The more of us that pay attention, the more chance we have of making a more equitable and sustainable future.

A Biologist’s Dreams for IoT

What would I do if I could make IoT tech appear with the wave of a wand? I would love to see tech that connects us more to natural spaces, like gardens or parks. I would also love to see tech that connects us to one another in more natural ways based on how our brains and bodies work. (Just think about how weird being on Zoom calls all day feels. Thanks COVID. What if we could create more realistic distantly-social settings based on how our bodies and minds work?) ✿

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