It’s time smart tech got serious

First, it was all about the home – web-connected lights, kettles, locks and, yes, even salt shakers. But ‘things’ are about to change in this joined-up world… on an industrial scale

A decade ago, I was assigned the cover story for the first issue of Wired UK. The brief was simple: ask a large number of experts to offer predictions for the next 50 years. One of them was Vint Cerf, a pioneering computer scientist who co-designed the fundamental architecture of the internet and is currently vice president and chief internet evangelist at Google.

His prediction was this. By 2018, he said, “I’m anticipating that several hundreds of millions of devices will be online. A lot will be very small things – sensors, for example, for local ambient information, such as temperature, humidity and possibly the detection of biohazards. Or they might be used to monitor and control building conditions or security devices.” What he was describing, of course, was the internet expanding its reach to physical objects and appliances, allowing them to communicate with each other and the outside world: the “internet of things” (or “IOT”), as it’s now commonly known. Looking back, Cerf’s prediction seems prescient – although he underestimated it. Today, there are in fact billions of things connected to the internet. Last year, it was estimated that the total hit 8.4 billion, more than the number of people on the planet. Given the pace of growth, businesses are trying to work out how to be a meaningful part of this trend. And many of them are getting it wrong.

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