TECH | Jun 21, 2018

Back2basics: Internet of Things

The meaning of the words "Internet of Things"

Once upon a time there was the computer. A mysterious and complex object whose use was entrusted to technicians in white shirts who managed it with punched cards, the interpretation of which made hieroglyphics look like child’s play. Then the computer became “personal” (not by chance we still call it PC, or Personal Computer) and things changed significantly: every person, every family could have theirs and use it with relative simplicity. Then came the networks to connect personal computers all over the world and with them their owners.

Networks like the Internet, which then collected all of them, have had the merit of promoting the diffusion of computers, giving them a thousand uses and a thousand different purposes and opening the doors to a real revolution. From the desks on which their owners had placed them (thereby giving them the name of “desktop computer”), computers spread anywhere and everywhere. It is no coincidence that, around the ’90s, there was the move from “desktop computing” to “ubiquitous computing”, indicating in which it was customary to see it and begins to colonize other places and other contexts.

Digital becomes a real seed of change

Microprocessors escape from the cumbersome containers into which they had been relegated in the era of desktop computing, entering into things: into everything. That phenomenon which Adam Greenfield describes as “the processing of information that dissolves into behavior” leads digital logic to enter into everyday objects, generating a transformative process that induces a real change of meaning and promotes a transformation not only of the role of objects into which computing enters, but of the behavior of the people who use them. It is the beginning of what will come to be called, in fact, digital transformation.

The first victim of this profound change is the telephone which becomes “smart”, acquiring ever new functions, and becoming – from a simple instrument of interpersonal communication – a real multi-function interface through which people interact with them and with the information ecosystem that surrounds them.

The telephone is just the first object to mutate and become “smart

It is followed by watches (smart watches), televisions (smart TVs), automobiles (smart cars). Entire cities, populated by a growing number of interconnected objects that promise to become simpler and on a human scale. Those smart cities whose real benefits still today represent a promise that passes through the understanding of new social, economic and cultural dynamics. Dynamics in which technology plays a leading role, but which, as an instrument of change, sometimes risks turning into an objective of change itself, reversing the cause-effect relationship that is instead important to ensure.

The fact is that computing has now left the computer to enter into objects and things. Things that the Internet connects and makes talk to each other. So, just as the Internet once put computers in contact and through them their owners, today it connects objects: all the things inside which there is a microprocessor. All the things which, once they are digital, are connected on the Net.

We are in the era of the Internet of Things: that Internet of Things in which billions of objects connected in a network speak with us and with each other, but in any case about us. There are those who estimate that between now and 2020 there will be over 60 billion networked “intelligent” objects. The extent to which this intelligence will be at our service and the extent to which we will find ourselves instead at the service of this intelligence will depend in large part on how we are able to positively exploit this great opportunity that technology presents us. A challenging round for the next few years which will involve all aspects of our life and our society. A round destined to change much of what we know.

A round whose outcome depends on all of us.

Stefano Epifani