There’s an increasing drum beat of news about the “Internet of Things”. There’s even an acronym for it – IoT.
IoT refers to the increasing number of devices on the Internet that report the status and location of physical things. This covers everything from the location of your smart phone to where a package might be to the condition of your pulse to the condition of a highway. (That’s why it is also sometimes referred to as the Internet of Everything.)
All this data has also led to people talking about “Big Data” and the need for analytical software to make sense of it all.
Less often noted is that things connected to the Internet can communicate with each other. We’ve only begun to think about the practical and fundamental issues this phenomenon will raise.
On a practical level, this machine-to-machine communications needs to be managed by people not through on-off switches or gauges, but through policies that can be operated at the same speed as the machines – not at the slow speed of human awareness and decision making.
The benefits can be striking. For example, a bridge whose sensors are detecting potential cracks in load-bearing columns can ask the street light to turn red to stop traffic and also tell the police dispatch system to get a couple of police cars out to redirect that traffic.
Of course, the complexity of a global system that connects all these devices is mind boggling. This global system has the potential for unpredictable and perhaps disastrous behavior.
That alone should get the attention of public leaders.
Now, most of the advertising and news from technology companies has focused on how corporations can use the Internet of Things. Surely they can. Just think of any company that ships things and needs to know the condition of the shipped items and there locations.
Companies are usually responsible for their own office and manufacturing space. Even including shipments or goods, any individual company has to worry about at most millions of square feet.
However, governments are uniquely responsible for what goes on in a particular territory, which can be many tens, hundreds, thousands or even millions of square miles. Eventually, all this territory will be covered by sensors, which will greatly outnumber everything else on the Internet.
By the way, the Internet of Things is not something way off in the future. Today, the number of physical devices connected to the Internet is already six times the number of people on the Internet, even though there are two billion of those people. By 2020, just a few years away, there will be 50 billion connected devices.
It’s time for government leaders to start focusing on IoT as a policy concern and as a tool for managing their infrastructure and territory.
© 2013 Norman Jacknis