Earlier this month, the Economist ran a special report on Smart Systems, otherwise known as the Internet of Things. The piece, entitled “It’s a Small World”, looked at the convergence of the real and digital worlds and the potential impact this has on us as a society.
If we think back, two decades ago the world was revolutionized by a similar type of network that provided people with a way to interact with each other – the Internet. In the last decade the evolution of the Internet, defined as Web 2.0 by Tim O’Reilly in 2005, added user-generated content and created the concept of software applications engaging with each other directly.
Today, many analysts agree that this decade will witness another revolution with the proliferation of Smart Objects, defined as objects that interact with each other over the Internet. These objects may be truly smart and advanced, such as iPhones or set-top boxes, or may be simple and dumb, such as sensors, cameras, or RFID readers. These objects will further mesh into our social fabric in the coming years and become a part of our societal norms.
This new trend transforms the interfaces that we engage with from “personal” or “mobile” or “tablet-based”, and instead creates opportunities for engagement that are ecosystemic and pervasive, becoming an invisible thread through our daily routines.
When this type of vision is covered by the Economist, it means that it is closer to our reality than we think. But this emerging reality is not without its challenges. A number of challenges still remain in creating and sustaining this pervasive, connected vision, the most common of which are centered on viable business models and privacy concerns. However, it’s these challenges that make the concept interesting and worth tackling.