In a report to mark the 25th anniversary of the World Wide Web, survey participants of the Pew Research Center Internet Project predict that the Internet of Things, or IoT, will be commonplace by 2025, as the masses adopt wearable gadgets and interconnected devices into every aspect of their daily lives, including health
The Internet of Things, as defined by Pew Research, is “a global, immersive, invisible, ambient networked computing environment built through the continued proliferation of smart sensors, cameras, software, databases and massive data centers in a world-spanning information fabric.”
Forbes’ Jacob Morgan defines it simply as the “concept of basically connecting any device with an on and off switch to the Internet (and/or to each other).”
It is a much-talked about topic not only in technology circles but increasingly by anyone who have access to the Internet, use mobile phones or operate any electronic device. To get a better understanding of this concept, the Pew Research Center Internet Project launched a series of reports this year containing ideas and opinions from experts about the future of the Internet.
A February 2014 report by Pew Research looked at the history and accelerating adoption of the Internet, and a March survey said that the Internet would be “like electricity” because of its ubiquitous nature.
Released this week, this latest report in a series of eight planned in 2014, Pew collaborated with Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center and surveyed 1,600 experts from the technology, consulting, legal, and academic sectors on their predictions on how IoT would stand by 2025.
The majority — 83% — of survey participants agreed when asked if IoT would have “widespread and beneficial effects” by 2025. Many of them said that today we can already see some of these effects in digital health.
“Health applications are legion and beginning to attract attention. Progress will be greatly aided by subcutaneous sensors capable of doing ‘vital signs’ and transmitting that information to medical professionals,” said Internet pioneer and former ICANN president Mike Roberts.
"One positive effect of 'ubiquitous computing,' as it used to be called, will be much faster, more convenient and lower-cost medical diagnostics,” said Patrick Tucker, author of “The Naked Future: What Happens In a World That Anticipates Your Every Move?” He added, “This will be essential if we are to meet the health care needs of a rapidly aging Baby Boomer generation.”
Tucker pointed out that the number of these devices have already surpassed the global population back in 2008, and quoted a Cisco report saying that there were 13 billion Internet-connected devices in 2013, increasing to 50 billion by 2020.
“These will include phones, chips, sensors, implants, and devices of which we have not yet conceived,” said Tucker in the survey.
“Embedded devices will become much smaller, less expensive, and less intrusive as a result of miniaturization and digitalization,” said Rashid Bashshur, Ph.D., senior advisor for eHealth for the University of Michigan Health System. “These devices will have immense benefits in early and precise diagnosis and treatment of various diseases, as well as monitoring health status indicators of various kinds.”
This early, many are already receptive to having gadgets that track and share health data. Today we have smartphone apps and devices like Google Glass that can store, track and analyze information. But some of those asked expect that a decade from now, consumers would have moved beyond merely tracking health data with fitness apps and smart watches or wristbands, and into using applications that predict our health and perhaps even unlocking secrets to longevity.
“When a powerful biometric monitoring program that keeps track of your vital signs every second of the day and is accessible to you, your personal medical community and sophisticated computational power and software that can not only help you view the information and understand it, but also compare it to vast sets of other data so that it becomes not just an indicator of health or sickness, but even predictive — we will live much, much longer,” said David-Michel Davies, executive director of the Webby Awards.
While the majority of those who participated in the survey were optimistic, others feel the Internet of Things is more like an incremental evolution of devices and systems we already use today, rather than a revolution that can change the world. Others are wary that there is too much hype surrounding IoT, and that any benefits will be tempered by issues such as privacy, security, and ethical concerns.