What is the Internet of Things? – Explanation About IOT & How It Works
The Internet of Things (IoT), is both an exciting technological development and a concerning one, as I will talk about later in this article.
Broadly speaking, the Internet of Things (IoT) is a term that defines everything connected to the Internet and since digitization, we are slowly transitioning into a smart world and one where everything is connected – people, technology, devices, sensors, software and in an effort to make everything in life easier.
It’s a strange definition in a way…we all understand what (hopefully) the “Internet” is and the other words, “of Things,” just seems to be a little too loose for what is in effect, be an extremely high-tech and precise world. Take a look at the work of Kevin Ashton, who coined the term, but who prefers to describe it as the Internet for Things.
And if I had my way, I would term it the Internet and Things! Anyway, terminology aside, what exactly is it and what can it do for you and I?
There is so much technical information out there to define precisely what the IoT is, so there is little point in simply duplicating information here, but having been in technology since the early 1980s and from a couple of angles – working in the technology staffing industry, founding my own global technology staffing company and then co-founding and co-founding a specialist software and services company, I always found that technology industry fell into two categories as far as people who actually understood it goes:
- Those who have an implicit understanding – technology specialists, educators, influencers, consultants, some sales and marketing people and a few others.
- And those who are relatively clueless!
There is a middle ground, as you would expect, and those are people like me who have stumbled their way through the learning process from having little or no knowledge and then to learning through sheer desire. And to really break it down further…you have perhaps the worst group of people and that is where the saying “a little knowledge can be dangerous,” comes into mind.
So in this article, I am going to talk about my own personal journey in the technology space and show you my path to the Internet of Things, which if you are in category 1 above, you will see the frustration of learning and it may inspire you to help the next generation who is on my path to learn, and if you are in category 2, you can shortcut the process!
This is an extremely simplistic guide and as I have said, based on my own journey — I am working through the evolution of two key technologies – computing and mobile telephony, and then the development of the third, or what I term as the “enabler” for it all…the Internet.
Think about the evolution of technology in two parts – the first, from the invention of the telephone and secondly, the invention of the computer.
We have telecommunications – defined as “communications at a distance” and the development of computers and computing technology which has given us the ability to perform complicated calculations and then going collect, analyze and perform complex business functions.
Converge these functions and fast-forward to today and you have the basis of the Iot. Now, in the field of telecommunications, we have seen the technology grow from a fixed line telephone, to a mobile one and also we must not ignore the technology of morse code, which gave people the ability to communicate over wires by sending electrical pulses which were coded into text, before we were able to speak using telephones.
You could say that morse code was the first form of text messaging! Moving quickly through time, we had the development of mobile or cellular technology, which allowed us to communicate on the move.
Early mobile phones went into cars and then when you could carry a phone around with you constantly, they looked like brief cases with a receiver on them! Hand-held devices rapidly emerged as the technology developed, but we were restricted to calls within the country we lived in and there was the issue of cost…this type of luxury back in the day, did not come cheap.
Next came the development of the global standard for mobile (GSM), which when adopted, would allow mobile users to be able to travel across the globe with one phone and remain connected.
The path to this goal did take some time and I remember having an old tri-band Motorola phone to enable me to go to the US back in the day and this phone worked in Europe and the USA.
It was the only option back at that time.
We’ve come a long way since those days and the point of this explanation is to show how mobile telephony has evolved through the ages to enable us to stay connected anywhere in the world, although you may have to make sure that you have what are termed “roaming” agreements in place between network operators, which is basically an agreement between them to allow users to operate in their respective countries when they visit…but this can be expensive so if you plan to do this, then check with your operator first.
But early mobile communication devices were restricted to calls and then came the introduction of text, but now they have evolved into fully-fledged smartphones, which are like minicomputers and people can literally run their personal and business lives from these hand-held devices.
The most important part of mobile communications, is of course, the aspect of mobility. Mobile networks use radio frequencies (RF) and other wireless technologies as a means to connect devices over the air, which provides the mobility aspect and these technologies are key to the Internet of Things.
Let’s now get back to computing and stay with me, because if you understand the evolution of the two technologies then the rest is easy, plus you can see how the future will play out.
Computing evolved from huge machines that required huge amounts of space, to the stylish and extremely powerful laptops that we see today. I’m not going to go through the specifics but take a look at this article from Insider.com to see the evolution.
Along with the super-sleek hardware, come the powerful software applications that offer huge benefits to businesses and people alike – think about the mobile gaming applications and programs that are coming out rapidly that keep our children glued to their devices.
Perhaps the most exciting and frightening developments are coming in the areas of automation, artificial intelligence (AI) and potentially quantum computing, which supercharges the sheer computing power and brings in a “thinking” and learning capabilities.
How it Works: Quantum Computing
I say “frightening” because once we have the words “artificial” and “intelligence,” then we have thinking and learning components that are performed by machines…and we humans have to make sure we retain the controls.
As the industries of mobile technology and computing evolved, we saw the development of powerful mobile software applications that would benefit personal and business users. Now we must look at the Internet, because after all, we are talking about the Internet of Things!
The Internet in concept started in the early 1960s and the idea was to have a global set of computers that were interconnected and gave people the ability to share information and programs – this article at Internetsociety.org, is a great read.
The Internet has revolutionized how we live, work and play. It has slashed physical boundaries and enabled us to communicate with pretty much anyone around the globe, in a relative instant.
The Internet was initially confined to email and informational communication and now it has become a commercial entity in its own right, with global transactions and software applications growing rapidly.
But we have to access the Internet. Early Internet access was cumbersome and involved plugging a cable into your telephone (or dedicated) line to grant access by using a modem.
Modems were no cheap back in the day, and you couldn’t use the telephone (unless you had another dedicated line) if you wanted to access the Internet. From this cumbersome dial-up situation, we have moved into the world of broadband and whether the services are being delivered via a cable, or through the airwaves, you have high-speed Internet access.
So now you have the picture – the development of mobile technology to enable communications on the move, using RF and other technologies to do so, plus the development of the computer, from large calculating and business problem-solving machines to desk-top personal computers and laptops, with applications for everything including work, life and play.
Plus, we have the super-enhanced possibilities for the future. Finally, you have the Internet and all of it’s uses which has gone from an almost pre-historic dial-up connection, to a fully-fledged super-fast broadband one (in most cases).
Now it starts to get exciting.
Where we are now
We’ve created a technology foundation and one to build layers upon for everything moving forward. Now we need to enhance that infrastructure, plus build more and then concentrate on the applications that will power the future.
I talk to my friend and Internet entrepreneur Fernando Raymond about his concept of the importance of people having the freedom to work independently and online. Fernando built an impressive list of marketing and hosting services through his own enterprises which are his hosting company, SeekaHost and his marketing company, ClickDo.
His vision is to get 100 million people online and many from third-world countries and to help enable this he has added an educational arm to his companies and at Seekahost University.
I would describe Fernando as a digital futurist and someone who is going to pave the way from the real birth of the Internet economy, around the mid 2000s, after the burst of the original Internet or “dot.com boom…and bust,” and around the time the Internet of Things was first talked about. Fernando is the new breed of online entrepreneurs, who will start to shape the digital economy for, and in the future.
Fernando’s and similar businesses will benefit greatly from the ongoing development of the Internet of Things, as will his customers and as we all will! We are at a critical point – if you are my age, then you are used to a totally different world from the one we are living in today and I think about those people who are my age and not technology savvy…it must be a nightmare for them.
My generation were used to a relatively un-automated world as far as a comparison to today goes, but my children, for example (and I started late by the way), are totally tech savvy, so there are no issues with handling today’s technology and future iterations.
They suck up knowledge like a sponge in the ocean. So, getting more specific about the IoT, let’s get into the details of what it can actually do for you:
- Better life experiences – whether you are a business or an individual, you will ultimately enjoy the benefits of seamless interconnectivity throughout your work and personal life
- Convenience and efficiency – you can for example, control multiple devices from one device. Think of your smartphone controlling the heating in your home, a smart fridge that can tell you when food is going to be out of date and ultimately order your food from the grocery provider. And using your voice to gather information or control things through AI
- Health and wellbeing – your doctor or primary healthcare provider will be able to monitor your vital statistics remotely and then contact you when those statistics are not in the correct range
- Environment – smart cities will be the cities of the future and it will be easy to monitor air pollution through excess traffic, to help designers and planners to create the optimal infrastructure and services through the analysis of real-time data.
- Efficiency – machines will perform tasks with greater accuracy and reliability
- Cost – overall capital and operational expenditure will be reduced across the board
The overall benefits are immense, and you can see why there is such an interest and investment in the technology.
The investment community is lapping this stuff up and pouring huge sums of money into the industry and development of IoT and related technologies and as an entrepreneur by heart, if I were looking to start a business today, and I had technology in mind, then I would seriously investigate this field.
As with anything, there are pro’s and cons, so let’s also take a look at some of the disadvantages:
- Privacy and security – the increase of massive amounts of data, collated from many sources opens up the chances of technology failure, hacking and rogue individuals. All three could lead to a violation of personal and company data, with outcome of compromising companies and individuals
- Complexity – closely related to the privacy argument, we have the simple issue of complexity and the fact there is currently no global standard of operation…just think about the challenges with simple mobile phones and global communications
- The “human factor” – there will be a lesser need for humans in the workplace
- Reliability – we are now more reliant on machines and that brings in the question of machine failure
- Control – with AI on the rise and the development of “thinking and learning machines,” there is an element of machine technology going “rogue”
- Technology reliance – the more we rely on technology, the more we will be exposed to the risks above
As with everything that is good, there is an element of risk and I am sure that many of you have sent text messages that have failed to arrive at their chosen destination, but could you imagine if there was a communication failure between gaining and sending stats that your doctor would need to see if they were not in a healthy range?
Or if that information was hacked? Or if you are made redundant because your skillset was automated, and you are not able to re-train and learn another skill? Automation is a natural product of technology evolution, but it is a hard fact to swallow if you have dedicated your life to learning a skill.
As I said right at the beginning…I have concerns and those concerns fall into two categories:
- Security and for the reasons I have mentioned
- The ability for the technology to be misused and/or fall into the wrong hands
I am a realist and of course, I try to focus on the positive aspects of everything, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t also recognize the negative. It’s easy for me to see how the human race could be wiped out and replaced my machines.
And if you do a little research on the subject, then I am sure you will at least agree with me that this possibility is real. Will this occur?
I believe so, but I have no idea as to the timing…but I do think that eventually it will become the case – after all, species become extinct and why should we be the exception?
The security issues are far easier to deal with than the misuse of technology. Cybersecurity has been a growing problem since technology of this nature began and it is only going to get worse as global technology, networks and applications grow…and that is why the cybersecurity industry is big business and worth big bucks.
But…let’s turn to the movie industry for a moment and in relation to my second concern. There seems to be an uncanny resemblance to past movies and what happens in the future.
I am fifty-six and growing up in the 1970s, there was a great TV series called “The Six Million Dollar Man.”
It portrayed an astronaut who had been injured in a crash on route to outer space and who was severely injured and re-built by replacing lost body parts – one eye, one arm and two legs with what were termed “bionic” or machine parts with a much greater capability than the original human ones.
And at a cost of $6m – hence the title!. This was cult viewing back in the day and his eye was a sensor that could see for miles – his one arm and two legs, gave him the ability to run at sixty miles an hour and unbelievable strength in his arm.
Even my grandmother was glued to the television on Thursday evenings to watch the show and every time he used his “bionic” capabilities it was shown firstly in slow-motion, which added to the effects immensely!
You have to remember that this started in the early 1970s and I had never seen a computer, although my mother was a punch card operator who worked for British Aerospace, but it didn’t make any difference to my technology understanding and to me, this program represented the gap between true sci-fi movies and reality.
I could and can still not, get into those really futuristic movies and I needed to see real people, in the real world and also get an insight into the future. Then you have the movie, “The Matrix,” where we (humans) are all trapped and living in a simulated reality, run by intelligent machines and one human takes them on to break the system.
I am concerned, because watching the 1970s TV series was a great experience and as a child, I could simply dismiss it as something futuristic and with no thought of any relationship with the real world at that time.
But by the time I saw the Matrix, I already knew that this technology was real and was well on its way…but the idea of dismissing it as I did with the TV series when I was a child, was no longer possible.
Combining the two was interesting for me, but I could still only see the benefits…to a point – a person who was injured or damaged could have parts replaced and a control system implanted to operate them…but living in a simulated world, ran by machines and where humans were enslaved within it, gave me a sinister vision for the future.
I see the Internet of Things as a transition from the three technologies that I have mentioned to one where we can really take advantage of the interconnectivity and power of ever-evolving software applications and state-of-the-art hardware, but I am concerned as to the potential misuse and dangers that could come with it which are way more than frightening.
I will stay with my concerns for a moment and there is no doubt at the moment that our lives are coming under far more scrutiny than ever before – there are street cameras everywhere in large cities and in the UK, we have built “smart motorways,” or freeways and we have advanced technologies such as facial recognition and so on.
Also, nobody likes to talk about war or warfare, but everyone can see the advances in military technology to the point where there will be no need for soldiers on the ground, pilots in the sky and ships – drones can be controlled remotely to perform precision tasks and without emotion, with a huge reduction in people.
If these and other technologies are used for the right purposes, then of course life becomes easier and the world an easier and better place to live in.
The Internet of Things is a great evolution of technology and globally, we have come a long way in a relatively short time. The simple concept of being able to connect with anyone around the globe, in an instant, was just a wild dream and only a few decades ago.
Now we have the opportunity to do it on demand and we are moving further forward regarding technology at warp-speed. Please don’t get me wrong and think that I am against the development of technology and specifically the Internet of Things.
I and like many others, have concerns that as we are evolving into a more machine-run world, there could be a lot of potential issues and problems relating primarily to security and misuse. The technology is magnificent, however, and I have watched this develop over decades.
I hope that the technology is used purely for what it should be and that is to enhance the quality of our lives…from each and every perspective. But we are moving into uncharted technology and as of writing this now, we are in unprecedented times with regard to a global pandemic.
The Internet of Things is and will continue to change our lives…I just hope that it is for the good!