Networked Intelligence Reshapes Our World

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Networked Intelligence Reshapes Our World

In 1982, programmers at Carnegie-Mellon University connected the first appliance to the Internet: a Coca-Cola vending machine.1 The machine was located on a different floor than the programmers' offices, and it was heavily used but infrequently replenished. The programmers became frustrated from making the trip to the machine only to find that it was empty, or paying for a soda and discovering that the bottle had just been added and was still warm.

The programmers' ingenious solution was to install micro-switches in the machine to sense the number of bottles in each of its six vending chutes. Then they wrote a server program so that anyone with access to the ARPANET (which evolved into the Internet) could determine what would happen if they went to the machine and pressed any of its six product buttons.

On their desktop computers, the display read "EMPTY" if no bottles were present, or "COLD" if a bottle was available and had been in the machine for more than three hours. If a bottle had been loaded recently, the number of hours and minutes since it had been added was displayed, to indicate how long it would take to chill.

Without much fanfare, the Coke machine became the first "thing" connected to the Internet, and it perfectly illustrates how a single connected device can improve people's lives by saving time and eliminating frustration.

Now, imagine a world in which every "thing" — every device, every appliance, every car, literally everything — is connected to the Internet. That's the vision of the "Internet of Things," and it is advancing rapidly. From that single Coke machine in 1982, the number of connected things will explode to 50 billion by 2020, according to projections from Cisco.

On many occasions, the Trends editors have discussed how and why the Internet of Things is coming into existence. But the latest trends involve how our lives and businesses will be transformed in unprecedented ways, once everything in the world is networked. Consider just a few of the endless applications:2

  • Wearable health-monitoring devices, such as smart slippers, shirts, and wristwatches, will contain sensors that enable family members or doctors or to keep track of the wearer's heart rate or medical conditions from a distance. For example, if the wearer falls down, the device will summon help by sending out an email or text message.
  • Washers and dryers linked to Wi-Fi are already on the market; like the Coke machine at Carnegie-Mellon, they allow students to see which machines in a campus Laundromat are available.
  • Insurance firms will increasingly install sensors in cars that track the customer's driving habits enabling them to raise or lower the insurance premium based on the individual's risk profile...

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