Imagine a world filled with hyperlinked smart objects that are constantly interacting over a network to improve user experience IRL. The ‘Internet of Things’ is perhaps the buzzwordiest buzzword in all of the tech sector right now, as it promises to produce a sleek, futuristic, friction-free—and lucrative—environment for all of us to live and consume products in. Which is probably why it’s relentlessly being heralded as the next big thing in consumer electronics: Recent projections from some of the industry’s biggest players say the IoT could be a $15 trillion market in just six years.
Those projections don’t come from high-minded futurists, but the companies that hope to cash in on the hyper-connected boom—Cisco and GE are both evangelizing the internet of things and gearing up for it. They need two things, primarily: A hungry public, and literally trillions of sensors.
Which is why Janusz Bryzek, an executive at Fairchild, apparently organized the Trillion Sensor Summit, which took place in Palo Alto recently. The event was attended by 200 executives from around the globe. According to the electronics trade publication The EE Times, Bryzek ”wants to create a consortium of companies and governments that develops a road map and pools funding to drive towards a market of trillion sensors.”
Again, that’s not as crazy as it sounds. A trillion sensors—in this case, specifically electronics that can send signals back and forth over the network, allowing, for instance, a consumer to control his TV, house lights, and AC unit from a smartphone or augmented reality devices like Glass—isn’t actually all that far off. There are already about 3.5 billion sensors out there—up from just 10 million in 2007. In the last six years, we’ve gone from 10 million sensors—in things like the Nintendo Wii and iPhones—to 3.5 billion. They’re just not networked as well as they could be, yet.
According to Cisco’s Connection Counter, there are approximately 10,700,000,000 “people, processes, data, and things” currently connected to the internet. The internet of things is already comprised of 10 billion moving parts. To make it all work in a concerted fashion, to meaningfully corral all that data, we’d just need more sensors. Those sensors can cost less than $1 and consume almost no energy—it’s all about mass manufacturing and deployment.
That’s why Bryzek is shooting for one trillion by 2020. It’s part of the Summit’s roadmap, which imagines a world filled with 100 trillion sensors just past 2030.
There are, of course, myriad concerns lurking in this grand new internet of stuff. We now know how easy it is for organizations like the NSA to peer into our emails and location data. A hyper-connected world ups the opportunities for data collection, big time, and for hacking, too. Sensors will no doubt be employed to bombard us with tailored advertisements as we pass node points in public, like restaurants, theaters, shops. And it could get even more intrusive: the IoT also enables more acute exploitation of biometric tech, like RFID chips that users carry with them on their persons; some schools already require students wear them as bracelets that sensors can pick up to deter truancy.
The IoT could improve our lives in numerous ways—making life more convenient, efficient, and sustainable. But there are unintended consequences latent in every promising new technological boom, and it’s worth thinking about what a world with 100 trillion sensors will actually look like before our corporate overlords make the call for us.
“This could be the biggest business in the history of electronics,” Bryzek said.