When you think of the Internet of Things (IoT), what do you think of?
Do stoves talking to fridges come to mind? What about smartwatches and intelligent fabrics? How about self-driving cars and connected transportation, smart buildings, precision agriculture, smart cities, wind farms, and smart grid? Do sensors, actuators, digital, data, network, Internet, and the cloud ring a bell? And, then there’s machine learning and AI, and algorithms, and cybersecurity and privacy, and future of work – right?
Yes – all the above and more.
At first glance the Internet of Things might seem like a cauldron of terms, or a black hole that draws in all the terms around it. As a result, the idea of IoT can be confusing.
So how do we think about and navigate the Internet of Things?
Despite the popular and simplistic notion of IoT as just interconnected sensors, or worse, fridges talking to stoves, the IoT is much broader, with far-reaching effects and consequences. IoT is a driver of technological innovation and economic activity, with both positive and concerning societal impacts.
To begin to understand the breadth of IoT, we must, at the outset, admit and accept that IoT is not any one product category, or technology, or sector. IoT is a paradigm and a space, which, although conceived in a connected-devices context, has expanded to envelope much of the overall digital realm. And, as a space, it's defined by a set of dimensions, which in this case include the following key three:
- Domains (and disciplines)
This 3D construct creates the scaffolding onto which the IoT terms and attributes can be attached or mapped to help us navigate IoT.
The ARCHITECTURE dimension includes a set of architectural building blocks used to construct IoT-based solutions. It envelops physical sensing and acting devices, wireless and wired networks, the cloud to store and manipulate the data, and applications that run in the cloud or other platforms.
However, like a hammer, an IoT architecture is only a means to an end and not the end itself. The real value is determined by how it’s used and applied. IoT application or solution verticals such as autonomous vehicles, smart cities, health, precision agriculture, and more, constitute another important and value-creating IoT dimension – the VERTICALS dimension.
Though the architecture and verticals comprise the means and the value of IoT, they are enabled by innovations in numerous domains and disciplines. The verticals and architecture also drive impact and transformation in other domains of human and societal endeavours. Together they constitute the third important dimension of the IoT space – the DOMAINS (and disciplines) dimension. Artificial intelligence, blockchain, cybersecurity, and hardware and software innovations such as SaaS are just some of the enabling domains. In return, IoT disrupts and drives reactions in areas such as privacy and network autonomy, human agency in work and society, legacy business models, and others - all of which ultimately compel new public policy.
It’s clear that IoT is a vast space and much more than a bucket of random terms and concepts. It constitutes a new paradigm for creating, living, and working in an animated physical world around us. A world where everything and every Thing is connected. Where the boundaries between the physical and virtual digital worlds are dissolved, forming a cyber-physical continuum, in which we interact with not just other humans, but also the pervasive ambient intelligence that IoT creates. A world where great IoT-created benefits are confounded by equally-created societal and governance challenges, requiring IoT-inclusive digital literacy by leaders and policymakers. IoT’s breadth spurs a cross-disciplinary mindset for technological solution creation and compels a systemic approach to digital governance – where Design Thinking can aid their innovation.
We are entering a new era of the global civilization, which is as transformational as the printing press, where IoT is a major defining force and digital literacy around it will be key to growth and relevance.