Pew: With strong belief in IoT benefits comes concern

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While many are still trying to precisely define the Internet of Things, a Pew Research Center study released Wednesday found that by 2025, the new technology will be so pervasive, it will make the Internet like electricity is today — less noticeable, but more integral than ever in daily life.

But that doesn’t come without concern.

Pew gave IoT a simple definition: “the expanding networking of everything and everyone” — homes, communities, environments, devices worn on bodies and more. That means everything and everyone will be in constant, automated communication through the interconnectivity of devices and a network to back it.

Unlike a typical randomized survey, Pew’s “Digital Life in 2025” was an opt-in study targeting technology-building experts knowledgeable of advancements in the field and what plausibly could come next. Though not truly representative of public sentiment, this study gives a vetted, realistic picture of the Internet’s future.

Of the 1,606 experts queried whether the Internet of Things will be prevalent and beneficial by 2025, 83 percent agreed it would be. With their reasoning, Pew found a few common themes:

  • The Internet of Things and wearable computing will progress significantly between now and 2025.
  • The realities of this data-drenched world raise substantial concerns about privacy and people’s abilities to control their own lives. If everyday activities are monitored and people are generating informational outputs, the level of profiling and targeting will grow and amplify social, economic and political struggles.
  • Information interfaces will advance—especially voice and touch commands. But few expect brain-to-network connectivity will be typical in most people’s daily lives by 2025.
  • There will be complicated, unintended consequences: “We will live in a world where many things won’t work and nobody will know how to fix them.”
  • The unconnected and those who just don’t want to be connected may be disenfranchised. Consider the ramifications of digital divides.
  • Individuals’ and organizations’ responses to the Internet of Things will recast the relationships people have with each other and with groups of all kinds.

Many of the expert respondents said the biggest impact they expect by 2025 will be the explosion of machine-to-machine communication, challenging the established human-centered communication.

“The Internet of Things is more likely to impact where the devices talk to each other, rather than to people—in the automation of construction, in smart buildings, and so on, where sensors communicate in a network and only alert people when needed—i.e., earthquake alerts,” said Mícheál Ó Foghlú, chief technology officer of FeedHenry, a mobile app platform.

And though a sizable majority responded to Pew’s “Digital Life in 2025” report with favorable outlooks of rapid growth, like how devices are already promoting healthier and convenient lifestyles, a few didn’t buy into it as much.

“The future of wearables is in the awkward adolescent stage. I have a feeling we’ll be here for awhile,” Ian O’Byrne, an assistant professor at the University of New Haven, said. “At some point, a product will come out that ‘just makes sense,’ and people will flock to have and use it. Until then, we’re all busy carrying around our Palm Treo…. I mean Google Glass.”

Many others believe the technology will be pervasive by 2025 and have some beneficial effects, but still worry about things such as privacy, a new digital divide and massive infrastructural messes.

“The Internet of Things will expand dramatically, largely funded by Google, Amazon and other private-sector actors who are motivated to increase their markets and economic power,” said Mikey O’Connor, a representative to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers’ Generic Names Supporting Organization Council. “These things will be powerful additions to the surveillance portfolio they already wield, both for themselves and for their governmental partners. The public will cheerfully adopt this technology, trading off their privacy and control over their lives for the convenience offered by those inter-networked things.”

recent report from International Data Corporation found the Internet of Things is trending toward a big boom. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be some initial struggles first. And the Pew results support that conclusion.

Yes, by 2025, IoT will likely be prevalent and beneficial, but it’s going to take some hard work ensuring privacy, IT security and so on to get there.

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emerging technology, Pew Research Center, Tech, The Internet of Things, Wearable tech
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