The milk jug in your refrigerator may not have special Internet powers yet, but just wait.
One day it may send you signals, say a text message, when you need to buy more.
That may sound far-fetched or unnecessary – it's not that hard to remember the milk – but such Internet-connected objects are a big topic these days in the tech world. The "Internet of Things" encompasses everything from wearable tech to connected home devices and stuff that hasn't yet been imagined.
By 2025 the "Internet of Things" will "have widespread and beneficial effects on the every day lives of the public," according to most of the 1,600 experts who contributed to a report released Wednesday by the Pew Research Center and Elon University's Imagining the Internet Center.
"They expect positive change that will impact health, transportation, shopping, industrial production and the environment," said Janna Anderson, director of the Imagining the Internet Center and a co-author of the report. "But they also warn about the privacy implications of this new data-saturated world and about the complexities involved in making networked devices work together."
There's a lot to digest in the full report. Worth a look if the idea of tweeting tennis shoes intrigues (or frightens) you. Here are five nuggets to start with:
- It's growing, and a big topic to define. “Here are the easy facts: In 2008, the number of Internet-connected devices first outnumbered the human population, and they have been growing far faster than have we. There were 13 billion Internet-connected devices in 2013, according to Cisco, and there will be 50 billion in 2020. These will include phones, chips, sensors, implants, and devices of which we have not yet conceived,” said Patrick Tucker, author of "The Naked Future: What Happens in a World That Anticipates Your Every Move?"
- We will learn a lot about ourselves, our homes, our communities. "Continuous monitoring is likely to be a powerful element in our lives: health monitoring, environment and security controls, traffic management, flow of materials," said Vint Cerf, vice president and chief Internet evangelist at Google.
- Privacy, or lack thereof, could be a big problem. "The effects will be widespread but pernicious. We might as well inject ourselves in the Internet of things. By 2025, we will have long ago given up our privacy. The Internet of Things will demand -- and we will give willingly -- our souls," said Peter R. Jacoby, a college professor.
- We may use smart things, but the networks that connect them will be complex. "We will live in a world where many things won't work, and nobody will know how to fix them," said Howard Rheingold, a pioneering Internet sociologist.
- There are doubts. "The Internet of Things has been in the red zone of the hypometer for over a decade now. Yes, there will be many niche applications, but it will not be the next big thing, as many pundits predict. If the Internet of Things had any true validity, you would think you would start to see evidence of its presence on early adopter Internet networks," said Bill St. Arnaud, a self-employed green Internet consultant.
(Photo above: Kolibree, an Internet connected toothbrush.)