As the digital world becomes more and more intertwined with reality, we will continue to see the clever adoption of internet connected services into our daily lives. At the core of this evolution is the concept of "The Internet of Things" (IoT), pegged by many as the "next big shift" in consumer and enterprise technology that will drive our society forwards.
By 2020, it is estimated that there will be over 20 billion connected devices online.
The question many are asking is what does this really mean for schools? Offices? Public utilities? How will fusing more technology with our lives empower us to be better humans and get more done?
With billions of internet enabled machines integrated in our homes and workplaces, we will be able to automate monotonous functions, observe cultural data patterns, and make systems far more efficient. The phrase is far more than just a buzzword. If we execute correctly, we can fundamentally disrupt entire industries (agriculture, construction). We can build safer streets, make more efficient farms, and entirely rewrite the experience of life.
There is a massive opportunity for entrepreneurs and incumbent technologists to develop IoT devices, thereby enhancing some of life's most boring and monotonous functions for the masses. And this enticing opportunity has drawn in a wide and talented pool of makers (engineers, designers, marketers, etc.) who are excited and eager to build the future faster.
One of the big bets for the IoT community, however, is that we can securely and safely store the huge quantities of data being sent to and from these appliances. The threat of cyber hackers, notorious for placing malware inside of internet connected devices like security cameras and computer monitors, is alive and top of mind, especially within major corporations who carry big, important data.
If we cannot even guarantee security and safety of our data today, how will we be able to create an infrastructure/standard for a digitally connected world when there are billions, if not trillions, of connected nodes in the network?
The answer, luckily, lies in the advanced development of blockchain technology that is breathing new life into the IoT movement, making a "faraway future" feel more and more like an inevitable component of reality.
At a high level, what you have to understand about blockchain is that it is a distributed network that maintains a verifiable, secure "ledger" to log, store, and access information. Unlike centralized systems, blockchain ledgers are immutable, meaning no single individual can uproot the system and make any changes without majority approval.
Effectively, they create a shared governance structure, "an optimal environment for IoT networks where there can be trust, anonymity, and effective contracts between parties without any single vendor being in charge," says Paul Fremantle from the University of Portsmouth.
Above that, implementations of blockchain could also enable players in the IoT space to begin monetizing and collaborating with their data.
Streamr, a startup built on Ethereum Smart Contracts, allows companies to tokenize their streaming data, enabling a whole new way for machines (internet connected devices) and people to trade and exchange data. Their model hinges on the idea that, with all of this new data from IoT devices, like self driving cars, being compiled and collected, surely companies and individuals should have the ability to monetize it. On the other side, Streamr provides a complete system for developing real-time data apps, all without a single line of code.
Finding unique and interesting ways to make use of the new abundance of data will prove to be the challenge for entrepreneurs of the next 5, 10, 20 years. While the learnings are far from predictable, one certainty is that technology will be at the core of mankind's evolution for years to come. Currently, we are faced with the challenge of making processing chips less expensive, and spreading the internet (and IoT devices) as far and wide as possible.
The next step is to access the synergies from having a string of devices online together, such that we can begin automating entire systems and making mundane processes far more efficient.