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The Internet of Things

Gordon Farrer (The Melbourne Age) | July 26, 2010
The Internet of Things is changing how we relate to technology.

Some of these are gimmicks, but they point to the technology's potential.

In a world in which every device is connected, monitored and able to communicate, the web becomes as much a part of our environment as air and sunlight. When data from those devices is cached, sorted and analysed, new relationships develop between humans and technology.

An example of this is Life Account, developed by a group of Mexican university students and the recent winner of Cisco's I-Prize.

Melding social media with the Internet of Things, Life Account uses ''smart'' objects to collect information about a person from both the physical and virtual worlds. The aggregated data is then pulled together into a avatar that reflects the habits and behaviours of the subject.

Life Account has mainly marketing applications for companies wanting to better target and deliver products to consumers. For example, tracking your online behaviour Amazon searches, Facebook comments, photo-tagging activities and tweets it could know that your partner has a birthday coming up and push tailored gift suggestions to you.

But similar avatar-development projects have a less commercial purpose. Lifenaut (see New Scientist, June 5 issue) aims to combine personal information collated through interviews and online behaviour to create a virtual replica of a person that would survive beyond their death and be able to interact with relatives and descendants. Creepy.

What information will there be to upload from the Internet of Things? You name it. As sensor devices such as smartphones and RFID tags proliferate, the web will be awash with every conceivable kind of information about us. There's already an enormous amount out there.

According to a February 2010 report by The Hammersmith Group (''The Internet of Things: Networked objects and devices''), there are currently about 1.5 billion internet capable computers and more than a billion smartphones. Within five years, says the report, there will be 100 billion devices connected to the internet, all generating enormous information trails.

Talking about the ''sensor revolution'' the proliferation of mobile phone devices that can see (camera), hear (microphone) and feel (touch screen) the world around us Google vice president Marissa Mayer has noted that in 2009 there was more than 280 exabytes of data online, 56 times more than in 2002. Riffing on the same theme,  Hewlett Packard CEO Mark Hurd has said that more data will be created in the next four years than in the history of the planet.

Will you become friends with your toilet on Facebook in this brave new world?

Perhaps not. But in The Internet of Things, it might be a good idea to introduce it to your doctor otherwise you might need that virtual avatar sooner than you'd like.


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