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Nobody knows you’re a toaster

May 19, 2014

iot infographicIn a famous New Yorker cartoon a canine at a computer quipped, “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.” The cartoonist was poking fun at the fact that, in an online discussion with a stranger one does not know the other’s gender or age. The title of this post comes from the infographic at right. It adapts the classic line to the “Internet of Things“, where appliances, vehicles, clothing, and other things communicate with computers, with us and with each other in cyberspace.

In May 2014 the Pew Internet and American Life Project released a report – The Internet of Things Will Thrive by 2025 – which analyzes 1,600 responses to questions about where this technology will go over the next ten years. Respondents expect it to be evident in many places:

  • Bodies: Wearable devices will provide feedback on fitness or monitor children.
  • Homes: We will control how residences are heated and how often gardens are watered. Sensors will warn us about prowlers and broken pipes.
  • Communities: Devices and apps will help with transportation and tell us about pollution levels. “Smart systems” will deliver electricity and water more efficiently.
  • Goods and services: Factories will use tracking to improve manufacturing and distribution.
  • Environment: Real-time readings from fields, forests, and oceans will allow for closer monitoring of resources.

This video, with highlights from the Consumer Electronics Show in January 2014, shows several new “smart home” devices – part of the Internet of Things.

According to Patrick Tucker, one of Pew’s respondents, “Internet-connected devices first outnumbered the human population [in 2008] … and there will be 50 billion in 2020.” Tucker predicts this will mean faster, lower-cost medical diagnostics and improved safety in cities. Other experts quoted in the report are less positive, citing the negative potential of surveillance and tracking technology, for example.

The 2012 Horizon Report listed the Internet of Things as likely to have significant impact teaching and learning within 4-5 years. If that was accurate then we still have a couple of years to wait — so far there is little evidence of applications aimed at education. Nevertheless, I wear a device that tells my computer how many steps I walk each day and I can use my phone to program my TV while sipping coffee at Starbuck’s. There’s no doubt in my mind that this trend will provide a growing number of opportunities (and challenges) for teaching and learning.

UPDATE: Here’s an Internet-connected device that tempts me as a cyclist: Skylock

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