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The Internet of Things

October 11, 2013

Humans are inherently lazy creatures, and our economy has shifted to conform as much as possible to enable our sloth. It started innocuously, with things as simple as shelled peanuts. Then came TV dinners, fast food restaurants, microwave popcorn and pudding cups. Now we're trapped; but, the economy is perhaps a little stronger.


The peanut
(Arachis hypogaea).

US President, Jimmy Carter, was a peanut farmer. He also has a Bachelor of Science degree, and he took graduate courses in nuclear reactor technology.

(Via Wikimedia Commons.)

When the Internet was developed, a standard addressing scheme was emplaced that assigned an identifying number, called an IP address, to everything on the Internet. This scheme, called IPv4, provided about 4.3 billion unique identifiers. In retrospect, this was a little short-sighted, since the world population was about that number when the standard was set in 1980.

Now, with nearly everyone online, and also having multiple devices with connection to the Internet, we're faced with an exhaustion of unique IP addresses. A router protocol known as network address translation (NAT) was a huge help in keeping everyone connected, but we're now forced into compliance with a new Internet address scheme called IPv6. IPv6 supports about 3.4x1038 addresses. That's more than 1028 unique addresses for each person on Earth.

There's some logic behind the total number of IPv4 and IPv6 addresses (pun intended). The number of IPv4 addresses is 232, and the number of IPv6 addresses is 2128. Why such a huge jump in number? Wouldn't 264 have been sufficient? Computer programmers, still smarting from the Y2K problem, probably didn't want to get caught with their firewalls down on this one, and no one can predict what the Internet will be used for in the far future. There's already a trend that's eating away at IP addresses, and that's the "Internet of Things."

If you're too lazy to check whether your coffee is ready, an Internet-connected coffee maker can signal completion of its coffee brewing cycle, and your smartphone can alert you to the fact that it's coffee time. Your refrigerator can query the RFID tags of stored items, write you a shopping list, and another list of what items should be discarded. These are two examples of the Internet of Things. When toasters are connected to the Internet, the IP address pool starts to shrink.

Cisco Systems, which has a commercial interest in Internet connectivity, has started to keep track of connections to the Internet, including the independent devices that comprise the Internet of Things. Its last count, on June 20, 2013, was 9,907,090,400 devices.[1] Cisco predicts that by the year 2020, 250 new things will connect to the Internet each second, and there will be 50 billion devices connected to the Internet at that time.[1]

Technology Roadmap for the Internet of Things.

A technology roadmap for the Internet of Things, as prepared for the US government in 2008. (Wikimedia Commons image, modified for clarity. Click image for a larger version)

One interesting perspective on this increased connectivity comes from economist, Michael Mandel, who prefers to refer to this concept as the "Internet of Everything" (IoE).[2-3] Mandel is with the Progressive Policy Institute, a supposedly centrist think tank. In an analysis of recent studies on the economic impact of the IoE, Mandel concludes that it could raise the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) by 2%-5% by 2025.[2]

Such an increase in GDP would arise from a transformation of current labor practices in such areas as manufacturing, transportation and health care; and public sector services such as waste collection. Mandel states that these industries haven't had the same productivity boost from the Internet as others, but the IoE would offer improvements.

Mandel sees a possible rebirth of manufacturing in the U.S. when factories are filled with wireless sensors; but, as an economist and not a technologist, he doesn't explain exactly how.[3] The increased GDP is not the only thing about the IoE that's important to Mandel. The jobs associated with IoE devices are higher technology jobs.[2]

One caveat I have is readily apparent from the technology roadmap for the Internet of Things. I don't have a problem with most "teleoperation," except for drones, and "telepresence," since it would be nice to monitor and control my home while I'm traveling. However, in the middle time in which we now live, the emphasis is on such things as "surveillance" and "locating people." As they say, cellphones are really people trackers with an incidental telephone function.

Surveillance cameras.

The Latin phrase , Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? ("Who watches the watchmen?"), is more important today than in the past.

Not only is all this surveillance an intrusion on our privacy, it's a drag on the economy.

(Via Wikimedia Commons.)

Economist, Gérald Santucci, has written an article entitled, "Privacy in the Digital Economy: Requiem or Renaissance? An essay on the future of privacy," about the affect of the Internet of Things on privacy.[5-6] Santucci writes what's apparent to nearly everyone, that the present safeguards on information privacy are largely inadequate in the face of such a technology onslaught.[5-6] Writes Santucci,
"... Do we want to live in a surveillance society that might ensure justice for all, yet privacy for none? Are we ready to live in a "City of Control" or do we definitely cherish a "City of Trust."[5]


  1. Karen Tillman, "How Many Internet Connections are in the World?" Cisco Systems Blog, July 29, 2013.
  2. Michael Mandel, "Can the Internet of Everything bring back the High-Growth Economy?" Progressive Policy Web Site, September 12, 2013.
  3. Michael Mandel, "Can the Internet of Everything Bring Back the High-Growth Economy?" Progressive Policy Web Site, September 12, 2013 (PDF Policy Memo).
  4. Stefan Ferber, "How the Internet of Things Changes Everything," Harvard Business Review Blogs, May 7, 2013.
  5. Gerald Santucci, "Privacy in the Digital Economy: Requiem or Renaissance? An essay on the future of privacy." Privacy Surgeon Web Site, September, 2013 (PDF File).
  6. Internet of Things Demands New Social Contract To Protect Privacy, Security Ledger Web Site, September 19, 2013.

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