In Depth

Published on December 4th, 2013 | by Daniel Castro


Internet Of Things Meets Holiday Wish Lists

For years, the Internet of Things was a future engineers could only dream about, but the technology is fast becoming a reality, with huge ramifications for the economy and society.

The Internet is no longer just a network for people to communicate with other people. It’s now a platform for networked devices to communicate with other devices: refrigerators with the electric utility, in-car navigation systems with roadway sensors, pacemakers with a computer in the doctor’s office. This Internet of Things is enabled by a combination of technological advances, including low-cost sensors, low-power processors, and widespread wireless connectivity. It’s creating a world that’s alive with information.

As consumers head out to do their holiday shopping, an Internet of Things device might be on their list, sometimes without their realizing it. For the health-conscious, a variety of products such as FitBit activity sensors help people monitor their fitness levels. For the eco-friendly, there’s the Nest thermostat, which learns users’ preferences and schedules and then optimizes their homes’ heating and cooling. Even those shopping for big-ticket items will find products and services with sensors and connectivity built-in — cars with OnStar’s emergency alert system, for example, or one of Whirlpool’s smart appliances.

In the coming years, the Internet of Things will transform our world so that the ability to “know and control” is embedded in our homes, offices, vehicles, and cities. This transformation will have profound implications for addressing important social and economic issues.

Consider the impact the Internet of Things will have on energy. First, smart meters are building intelligence into the electric grid so that utilities can identify usage in real time, identify and repair network problems, and optimize energy production. Second, smart appliances combined with dynamic pricing of electricity let customers automatically reduce their energy usage during periods of peak demand, saving them money and reducing their environmental footprint. Third, the Internet of Things is unlocking the potential of renewable energy by letting consumers sell energy back to the grid, and by creating more efficient wind turbines and solar panels optimized based on weather conditions.

As the technology advances, we must ask this question: Will the government make or break the Internet of Things? Al Gore didn’t invent the Internet, but the US government has had an important role in its formation, with early years at DARPA, and continued development, including recent efforts by the FCC to expand access to broadband. But bad public policies can undermine new technologies as well.

Although private-sector innovation is responsible for most of the devices that comprise the Internet of Things, policymakers will determine how these devices and related technologies are regulated and whether government agencies are early adopters. Just as important as the devices themselves will be the software layer that collects and processes the data generated by the Internet of Things. For example, a number of devices already let patients monitor their health conditions remotely, but this data must be standardized and integrated into electronic health records. And communications between vehicles on the road might serve one purpose for drivers, another purpose for an insurance company, and yet a third purpose for city planners — requiring novel legal arrangements for data sharing.

Given the magnitude of the economic impact the Internet of Things will have, consumers and policymakers must start paying attention now. Fortunately, many of them can start learning with the devices they receive this holiday season.

This article was first published in InformationWeek.

Photo credit: Flickr user Ashraf Saleh

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About the Author

Daniel Castro is the director of the Center for Data Innovation and vice president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. Mr. Castro writes and speaks on a variety of issues related to information technology and internet policy, including data, privacy, security, intellectual property, internet governance, e-government, and accessibility for people with disabilities. His work has been quoted and cited in numerous media outlets, including The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, NPR, USA Today, Bloomberg News, and Businessweek. In 2013, Mr. Castro was named to FedScoop’s list of “Top 25 most influential people under 40 in government and tech.” In 2015, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker appointed Mr. Castro to the Commerce Data Advisory Council.Mr. Castro previously worked as an IT analyst at the Government Accountability Office (GAO) where he audited IT security and management controls at various government agencies. He contributed to GAO reports on the state of information security at a variety of federal agencies, including the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). In addition, Mr. Castro was a Visiting Scientist at the Software Engineering Institute (SEI) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where he developed virtual training simulations to provide clients with hands-on training of the latest information security tools. He has a B.S. in Foreign Service from Georgetown University and an M.S. in Information Security Technology and Management from Carnegie Mellon University.

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