It was the 1980s - a couple of programmers at Carnegie Mellon University were yearning for a cool drink to quench their thirst when they came upon a Coca-Cola vending machine. Being unsure of the availability of drinks, they did what they knew best-connected their computers to the vending machine and worked their magic. This little quirk was the moment humanity discovered IoT without realizing it.

Until 1999, the concept of communicating machines was a futuristic vision. Kevin Ashton, the Executive Director of Auto-ID Labs at MIT, was among the first to understand and publicize the concept. He formally introduced the world to the Internet of Things (IoT) during a presentation at Procter & Gamble.

Until a decade ago, IoT would mean connected devices, networks, and data transfers. The bloom of social media caused a drastic paradigm shift. More than half of Earth’s population is now connected through the internet and has a social media profile. A similar revolution took place a few years back, but here’s the catch - this time, it was the inanimate that got a user profile. It is believed that in just a few years, the products available online will have a profile linked to it which will contain its entire history!

The Internet of Things, or IoT, is a niche technology, which at its fundamental level, shares similar concepts as social media - a gateway that connects all users over a secure connection to share relevant data to build an efficient automated ecosystem. IoT brings us closer to this goal than any other technology ever has, and has numerous applications spanning over a spectrum of fields.

Concerning the industrial sector, the introduction of cloud platforms and IPv6 has provided an optimum environment for the connected devices to communicate and harvest real-time data through a secure cloud to increase production efficiency.

But what about IoT in a pandemic-stricken world?

Microsoft released the IoT signals report which described its adoption and performance in the corporate sector. According to the report, IoT adoption surged from 85% to 91% in the past year amidst the pandemic and is expected to hit a whopping 95% in just two more years.

During the current pandemic where businesses struggle to stay afloat, IoT adoption is still following an upward trajectory. IoT has promising potential in its ability to improve efficiency, quality and productivity. However, a few business analysts say that IoT applications have hit a snag. Due to the lack of opportunity to strategically implement the technology, the returns may not be as great as it was once thought. But with advancing technology the returns are expected to improve at a steady pace.

Tech experts have predicted future applications of IoT that would leave us in a state of awe and amazement:

  • Smart glass:

A head-mounted display designed in the shape of a pair of eyeglasses. You could stare into space and browse the internet! Sounds like magic doesn’t it?

  • Smart farming:

Farming has always been the backbone of the Indian economy. IoT can help farmers assess the quality of soil, humidity & pest infestation to modify the present farming techniques to maximize harvest.

  • Smart cities:

A futuristic city with exceedingly high efficiency and amazing connectivity! The ultimate goal of all developed societies has now become a plausible mission.

This technology has multiple perspectives to explore, most of them ideal for making life better. With such versatility, comes an extensive list of ethical dilemmas, both internal and external.

Think of an IoT network as a gateway to a huge safe. Now all the connected devices send humongous amounts of data to the cloud for analysis and storage. Although big data analytics is of paramount necessity, it has a potential for exploiting the user’s data. Cybersecurity has been protecting us from external threats for years, but internal threats still remain unchecked. When it comes to privacy, there is no fixed guideline in place to check the usage of user data travelling through the network, thus providing big analytics unfettered access to humongous amounts of user data.

In this magical age with mesmerizing technology, we have been doing what experts have termed, “Sleepwalking into the future”. Ethical discussions on futuristic technology have often been belittled as a rigmarole, but change is afoot. Awareness about the issue has increased exponentially, forcing strict data privacy laws. It is up to us to acknowledge the intensity of the issue & to act on it. In our journey towards an uncertain future, IoT promises technological advancement beyond imagination, if harnessed ethically.

Reference: IoT Signals report:

Rahul Ekkanath