Friday, May 16, 2014

Is the Internet of Things still a thing?

Traveling in the Valley, I drove past a billboard from a company boasting of its role in helping build the Internet of Things.  That made me pause for a second.  I hadn't really heard the term in a while, and this isn't one of those cases where the Valley is ahead of the tech trend.  Not so long ago, I seem to recall, the Internet of Things was getting quite a bit of hype in the world at large.

What is this IoT, by the way?  It's the idea that all the things in your life, or at least way more of them than now, are connected to the Net and in some cases happily talking to each other.  So, say, when your toaster pops up a slice of toast you can get a text on your phone that you can't read because you're driving to work and forgot you'd even put anything in the toaster to begin with.  Or if all your clothes have RFIDs sewn in, you can easily track what's in your closet and what's in the wash (or what you're wearing, but you may already know that).

OK, that's a bit glib.  There are some interesting applications.  I'm pretty sure.

There are a couple of kinds of hype terms, I think.  Some are just pure hype.  You'll hear them for a while, then it will turn out that there wasn't any there there, and they quietly go away.  There was a lot of this flying around in the dot com days, of course.

Some hype terms, however, have an actual useful idea behind them.  The internet and the Web, for example.  That doesn't necessarily mean that the particular hype term will survive -- remember the Information Superhighway?  We call it the internet now, but the concept behind it hasn't gone away and will continue to develop.

Some of these kinds of terms will fade in and out as the underlying concept goes through cycles of hype, backlash, rehabilitation and possibly hype again.  AI is one.  E-commerce would be another.

I suspect that the IoT is one of these.  We can expect surges in hype, followed by periods of "meh", and maybe a name change or two, but over time more and more things with computing power or computer friendly id tags in them will get connected to the world at large -- thermostats, TVs, cars, security systems, stoplights, dishwashers, consumer goods ... maybe even toasters.  Possibly things that don't have significant computing power will get enough to get on the net, too.  Maybe roads and bridges get large numbers of sensors that can communicate conditions back to some control center.

So, even if the billboard is a bit jarring to someone not immersed in the Valley's particular media bath, the company behind it is probably engaged in something significant, and maybe even useful.

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