Slippers that blink when the dog needs letting out. A heart rate monitor that runs the bath when you burn 100 calories. A kettle that tweets when you run out of teabags.
These are some of the vapid imaginings of the world to come when the Internet of Things (IoT) is finally brought to us by consumer marketing profiteers, says Andrew Farrell, CEO at Matchbox Mobile. Inspiring little other than cynicism these aphorisms thankfully are satirical illustrations of how technological advances are frequently debased and presented to the wider world. One is willing to forgive the reader for feeling underwhelmed at the prospect of the ‘next big thing’.
However, I believe the Internet of Things will have a meaningful impact on the real world, our lives and the economy. Though you’re unlikely to notice this quiet evolution happening.
The IoT is not a new idea or a passing fad
The ideas, concepts and technology that form IoT have been around as long as the internet. So why is the Internet of Things reaching mainstream consciousness now?
There are two primary reasons for this. First, we’re at a tipping point with the volume of machines manufactured with in-built connectivity. Within three years almost every machine manufactured will be connected. Secondly, the technologies that form the basis of IoT (connectivity, software, electronics, cloud services, etc.) are converging.
Adam Smith (1723-90) noted that increasing wealth depends on increasing productivity. The positive effect of this principle on the economy has held true since Smith’s initial observation in the 18th century. By integrating IoT into industrial processes, monitoring, goods and services we greatly enhance our ability to not only organise and manage our means of production better but also transform them. IoT provides the tools to change how we work, how we can work better and our impact on the environment at unprecedented scale and speed. For example, US farmers can monitor soil, climate, and weather to predict potential yields. Combined with pest control and crop processing farmers can increase yields, save energy and resources all the while reducing the price of food.
At home, automation and machine-to-machine (M2M) communications can have a positive societal impact by reducing labour, increasing leisure time and saving money for consumers. For example, the advent of the washing machine has arguably had a greater impact on society than the internet has done. By liberating women from household work the washing machine (and other household goods) changed all our lives. Women were able to join the labour market, develop careers, pursue higher education, and become increasingly productive with their newly acquired free time. Similarly, IoT integrated into our homes, cars, and services frees us to be productive members of society.
Next Christmas you may be buying granny a dressing gown that throbs when the cat gets stuck in the neighbour’s garage, however you can do so in the knowledge that the real benefit of IoT is far wider and greater than superficial consumerism.
 In An inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations.
The author of this blog is Andrew Farrell, CEO of Matchbox Mobile