Jul 8, 2016

An oft used but confusing buzz term popping up all around the web, “the Internet of Things” is a catch-all phrase which, simply put, refers to the countless ways in which the internet has moved from our cord-bound computers into everyday objects all around us.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is ever-present in our lives today, but it was the stuff of Bradbury and Roddenberry science fiction not that long ago.

Fifty-five years ago, the internet was just a single communication link established between UCLA and the Stanford Research Institute (SRI). That was in October of 1969, and it is the predecessor of the internet as we know it today.

The brainchild of computer scientist J.C.R. Licklider, ARPANet was created from a single revolutionary idea to link computers together all around the world and share information. The Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA, and now called DARPA) was formed primarily with funding from the US Department of Defense in 1961. The DoD was interested in securing a means of communication that could not be disrupted by nuclear war, a tremendous fear during the Cold War era.

In 1969, the network of computers linked together became ARPANet, and the first communications sent between UCLA and SRI were by information scientist Elizabeth Feinler’s team. With the successful communication sent, ARPANet added additional computer nodes at the University of California,
University of Utah, and Santa Barbara.

These communications and advances in internet technology were only a part of what was envisioned by some as early as the 1920’s.

The Internet of Things, in all its modern glory, was described by scientist and revolutionary inventor Nikola Tesla in the January 30, 1926 issue of Collier’s Magazine. The article, entitled “When Woman is Boss” describes, among the central idea that women will rise to lead the world’s greatest endeavors, the early 19th Century version of the Internet of Things.

Tesla notes:

”When wireless is perfectly applied the whole earth will be converted into a huge brain, which in fact it is, all things being particles of a real and rhythmic whole. We shall be able to communicate with one another instantly, irrespective of distance. Not only this, but through television and telephony we shall see and hear one another as perfectly as though we were face to face, despite intervening distances of thousands of miles; and the instruments through which we shall be able to do this will be amazingly simple compared with our present telephone. A man will be able to carry one in his vest pocket.

We shall be able to witness and hear events—the inauguration of a President, the playing of a world series game, the havoc of an earthquake or the terror of a battle—just as though we were present.”

Though the first major internet strides toward commercialization came in 1989, it was not until 1995 that the internet as we know it today took shape.

In 1999, the IoT was officially introduced, but back in 1990, John Romkey created the first internet-connected device—a toaster. Though the idea was a simple one, it demonstrated that the internet did not need to be relegated to office computers. The internet was a means of communication to potentially anything that could receive the signal. Though many other connected items would follow, they were all fairly impractical in both design and execution.

It would not be until 2007 and the introduction of Apple’s iPhone that the IoT’s potential went from unworkable to necessary in one fell swoop.

When the once wired network ditched the strings and wireless took over. Today, the biggest names in corporate behemoths like Microsoft, Apple, GE, Google, and HP have IoT platforms which allow the thousands of IoT devices and products being produced every year to connect with us in ways Tesla never imagined.

From “things” like internet-based home security systems to a soil gauge which sends alerts to your phone whenever you need to water your plants, the IoT is rapidly changing the future of the internet. As of 2016, there are nearly 6.45 billion “things” connected to the internet. By 2020, predictions are that number will be close to 20.8 billion.

And we cannot wait to see what happens next.