The buzzword at this week's CES 2015 in Las Vegas is of course "The Internet of Things," an annoying term for something—interconnected embedded devices—that has been around for many years. This isn't the first time the tech industry has jumped the shark with a new term for something old—cloud computing is an obvious recent example—but surely there is a better way to discuss this technology and how it will impact our lives.
The Internet of Things is all over CES. Connected thermostats. Connected light bulbs. (More) connected televisions. Connected washing machines, toasters, and refrigerators. Connected clothing, jewelry, and hats. Connected cars. Connected ... everything. If it's a thing, it's getting connected. At CES. In Las Vegas. In case you missed it.
The most interesting, um, thing, about the Internet of Things has never really been reported. And it's this: it will destroy the consumer electronics market as we know it if it's truly successful. If everything is connected, if we can access our data and any online information from any surface, object, or thing in the world, why would anyone buy a smart phone, tablet, or PC? This isn't computing as a service, it's the entire technology industry as a service.
And the Internet of Things—sorry, I should be using the even buzzier IoT moniker to show how, you know, connected I am with this stuff—should have you technology Luddites in physical spasms. If you think moving data from personal hard drives and PCs to the cloud, searching for anything with Google, or signing into Windows 8 with a Microsoft account is scary, oh my. Wait until to see the privacy implications of all these ... things.
"Whether it's a remote valet parking assistant, which allows drivers to get out of their cars and remotely guide their empty car to a parking spot; a new fashionable bracelet that allows consumers to check their texts and see reviews of nearby restaurants; or smart glucose meters, which make glucose readings accessible both to those afflicted with diabetes and their doctors, the IoT has the potential to transform our daily lives," Federal Trade Commission chairwoman, Edith Ramirez said during her CES keynote address this week, apparently unaware of the negative implications of this statement.
Today, we live in a world in which clueless smart phone users walk into each other and inanimate objects because they are so taken with what's happening on their tiny screens. People scream into cell phones or listen to music through external speakers in public places. They drive like idiots, writing texts and even watching movies, insulated from other cars and drivers and unaware of the deadly physics of taking one's eyes off the road for even a second. Will the IoT provide even more distraction as well as more useful information?
Of course it will. But the hope for all technology is that it will help more than hurt, make us more efficient, or at least "better" in some way. Healthier. More informed. But I'd remind readers that the "paperless office" we were promised in the 1980's is not much closer to reality today than are transporters or flying cars. And that just because something is hyped doesn't mean that it's really useful or life-changing.
The Internet of Things is real, but then it's been real for a while now. The real aim of this movement should be interoperability, not siloed ecosystems ... and with privacy and security protections. And we should be pushing our elected officials to keep the law up to date with the changes in technology, and not retroactively trying to figure things out as they have in the past.
So please, yes, enjoy the absolute silliness of CES. But when this week ends and we go back to our day to day lives, remember that it isn't the technology that matters, it's how we use it. And if the past decade of smart phones, tablets, and other doohickeys has proven anything, it's that we have a long ways to go before our understanding and usage of technology matures.