Internet of things. It’s a term that most everyone has heard about, but also one that nobody actually understands. The reality is, the internet of things, IoT for short, is a revolutionary technology that has real potential to shake up the future of integrated technology. It is a gateway to artificial intelligence and the direct pathway to business success.

But what exactly is it? IoT is pretty much everything it says it is. It is the huge network of objects and everyday devices that are connected to the internet. While we are used to the traditional smartphone, laptop and tablet as the only entryway to the internet, IoT has managed to really shake things up by introducing potential for connectivity for other objects like refrigerators, pillows and even umbrellas. Such technology creates the avenue for artificial intelligence and inherently “smart” devices that can better cater to personalization and specific function.

The fact of the matter is that the number of connected devices is expected to nearly triple by 2025 to an expected number of 75 billion devices. Not only this, but the worth of the IoT industry is expected to grow to a whopping $6.2 trillion, greatly increasing the projected maximums for health care and manufacturing. Evidently, the growth is indicative of changing times.

How might it affect us? For one, IoT is seemingly turning around the traditional cloud-based computing model that has reigned supreme for the past decade or so. Cloud computing is a fairly new trend in a back-and-forth history of computing. While the first computer was centralized, the introduction of servers created a more distributed model. Inevitably, the move back toward a decentralized system is forthcoming, and it seems highly likely that the IoT might just be the movement that will pull it off. As connected devices become more and more complex, it becomes tougher to solely rely on the cloud, especially when intricate decisions and output are needed in very short periods of time. Expect to see a trend toward this in the near future.

Perhaps on a more negative note, however, is the problem of security. The moment we increase the numbers of devices connected to the network, the more exposed and readily accessible our personal information and preferences become. As such, the IoT movement does pose quite a significant risk in this sense. This is perhaps validated by the Mirai botnet attack in 2016 that led many to fear an apocalypse of the internet. While perpetrated by a few teenagers with intentions far less grand than the ensuing attack, the malware was successfully able to hack into various IoT devices and leverage them to create a malicious network of internet-connected devices called botnets to complete a task that managed to render much of the internet unavailable on the East Coast for a day. And even though IoT security has arguably advanced quite a bit since then, there still is a lot of ground to be made, especially when reports show only “48 percent of businesses can even detect whether they've suffered an IoT breach” and “only 59 percent of companies encrypt all their IoT-related data.”

Nevertheless, IoT maintains its transformative benefits, much of which lie in the arena of sustainability. As such devices begin to be implemented more and more, it is easier for wasteful appliances and products to become more cost and energy efficient. Take, for example, Cree SmartCast Technology, a new application of smart lighting. The application of IoT technology allows for increased savings in energy and other costs while creating an integrated lighting system that offers more personalization than other technologically-lacking alternatives.

A massive future uptrend in big data comes as a result of this. Many of these technologies rely on maintaining vast directories of data and monitoring them in order to create increased personalization. For example, as cities begin to adopt IoT solutions to make their operations efficient, a natural byproduct is the collection of massive amounts of user data and preferences. But in order to create intelligent and innovative systems, this data must be sorted through. Big data offers this solution by combining volume, variety, velocity, veracity and value to create flexible and smart programs. It isn’t a coincidence that “data scientist” is being called the sexiest job of the 21st century. And while naysayers claim that big data doesn’t have a future in the face of “fast data,” the future of artificial intelligence and machine learning simply becomes an impossible task if efficient big data solutions don’t exist.

To get to the point, IoT is where the future is. So, if you haven’t chosen your major yet, consider data science as a possibility. And if you have decided your major, learn some data science anyway. Because before you know it, IoT will have taken over your life.

Adithya Sanjay can be reached at asanjay@umich.edu.

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