The Internet in 2025: the Internet/Cloud of Things (Pew 4)

internet_map_2005_dataPartial map of the Internet cloud. Each line joins 2 nodes representing IP addresses. 


Pew setup question

The evolution of embedded and wearable devices and the Internet/Cloud of Things – As billions of devices, artifacts, and accessories are networked, will the Internet of Things have widespread and beneficial effects on the everyday lives of the public by 2025?


The visualization of the Internet you see above, while pretty dense and complicated, captures only a fraction of a certain class of networks as they existed nine years ago (i.e., less than 30% of the Class C networks reached by the Opte Project in early 2005). In the intervening time, the number of Internet-connected hosts has increased from less than 400 million to over one billion. But you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet.


This past year marked the mainstreaming – in the public consciousness if not in our actual lives – of devices that are not only a) smart so they can compute, and b) small so they can be worn or embedded, but also c) networked so they can all communicate over the Internet. Judging by press coverage, I’d say the splashiest recent entries have been Google Glass and smart watches.

“Who the hell knew how much address space we needed?”

EdisonChipThe potential number of everyday things – fridges, watches, glasses, garagedoor openers – that are in line to be given a processor and put online is in the billions, hence the Internet of Things. But one other piece of the puzzle needs to fall into place before the IoT really starts to roll out: IPv6, successor to the 4th-generation Internet protocol, which has effectively run out of available address space in several parts of the world.

Three years ago, when the IETF was putting a big push on IPv6, Vint Cerf came forward to take the blame, a little tongue-in-cheek, for having settled in the late 1970s for an IPv4 revision that limited addressing to four 8-bit numbers or 32 bits total in total, which makes for a mere 4.3 billion addresses. Back then, of course, the Internet was just an experiment for a few thousand computer nerds.

The new revision, IPv6, certainly solves the space problem, maybe for all eternity. It uses a 128-bit address system (2^128), which when multiplied out makes this 39-digit string: 340,282,366,920,938,463,463,374,607,431,768,211,456.

That’s about 340 trillion, trillion, trillion addresses.

The problem with this mathematical miracle is that even the big Web platforms and ISPs are being dragged kicking and screaming into IPv6 deployment. While there are numerous workarounds, like dual-stack functionality, most of the Internet is still stuck on IPv4 – and the two versions are not mutually compatible. We read, for example, that as of this month, the percentage of users reaching Google services over IPv6 has just surpassed 3% for the first time.

reacherIronically, even though we’re a long way from the promised land of the IoT, those on the bleeding edge are already causing pockets of social upheaval. Case in point: Google Glass. Although Glass is still in pricey invite-only beta, it made headlines in January when a guy sporting them in a movie theater in Columbus, Ohio was grabbed by Homeland Security and interrogated for over an hour because the G-men assumed he was camming the feature attraction, Jack Reacher. He wasn’t. Yet the incident still produced stern warnings about wearing Glass in theaters, and other dense clouds of self-serving vapor from ICE, AMC and even the MPAA about the importance of remaining vigilant in the face of cam-piracy: “Movie theft is something we take very seriously, bla bla.” Being an Internet pioneer in the coming years is going to require a comprehensive risk mitigation manual.

Cue Pew…

The evolution of embedded and wearable devices and the Internet/Cloud of Things – As billions of devices, artifacts, and accessories are networked, will the Internet of Things have widespread and beneficial effects on the everyday lives of the public by 2025?

My response: NO…

Please elaborate on your answer. Describe the evolution of the uses of embedded devices, “wearables” and “scanables” by 2025 – where will commercial and social applications of the Internet of Things most commonly and vividly be felt? What social and political difficulties will accompany the rise of the Internet of Things? If you answered “no” please discuss what you believe the barriers are to the spread of the Internet of Things and the benefits that are claimed for it.

My elaboration…

The Internet of Things will certainly be widespread by 2025, though there are reasons to doubt whether the ubiquity of wearable and embedded devices will be either a) beneficial or b) part of the everyday lives of the public. Both the Cloud and IofT are sure to experience growth if only because they already have an established presence. Sure, cloud computing will bring plenty more changes to the IT industry. But sending files from a local drive to a remote server to be stored, synced and shared is not exactly exotic behavior: the “cloud” has always been out there. Moreover, many enabling technologies have already been developed for the IofT, in both software (like Web services) and hardware (RFID tagging, networked sensors, smart appliances, computers-on-a-chip). By comparison with other types of digital devices, the acquisition and use of embedded technologies will be more passive and less visible than usual. Hidden devices by their very nature take action away from the user, in exchange for greatly enhanced convenience in the handling of routine chores. Clearly the effects produced by many embedded devices, like a weekly grocery list derived from the contents of the fridge, will be in plain sight. Nevertheless, the rallying cry for industry marketers will be: the less you know and have to do, the better you’ll feel.

Unfortunately, the IofT will eventually create a perfect storm from three elements: ubiquitous networking platforms; the huge proliferation of addressable things made possible by IPv6; and the out-of-sight-out-of-mind nature of many of the “things” in question. Consumers of digital technology have never been well served by their own ignorance of how things work, where risks lie and what EULAs say about vendor privileges. Embedded technologies take the problems of consumer protection to a whole new level, given the dramatically increased opportunities they create for surveillance and commercial data collection. Apart from how the industry will market these technologies in the coming years (variations on “Intel Inside”?), the IofT raises obvious questions about heightened risks to privacy and security. But this latter problem isn’t strictly about the insidious nature of vast networks of hidden devices. It’s also about the values of our consumer culture, in which everything digital is sold as easy, powerful and friendly, the ultimate source of no-effort happiness. Sadly, more digital ignorance will only mean less consumer bliss.

Bonus question: Consider the ways in which people will most commonly interact with the Internet in 2025 and tell us what you think the fate of wearable connected devices such as Google Glass and the Samsung watch will be. What do you think of the future prospect that people will interact via their thoughts or other bodily signals such as eye movements?

The smart devices we can actually see and handle add another consideration: usability. Smart watches, for example, can be expected to get much better in numerous ways, like steadily improving battery life and user interfaces. But what about hugely popular functions like video playback? Is there a practical limit to how far miniaturization can go before small devices like watches are no longer suitable for motion video? Consumers have been surprisingly adept at adjusting their viewing habits from conventional TV to lower-quality online video and the relatively tiny screens on smartphones. But as practical limits to playback are reached, it’s inevitable that many operations will move to the territory staked out by Google Glass – the more intimate, enveloping kind of device that adds AR functionality to visual, auditory and other inputs. The transition from small, free-standing screens (like those in handhelds) to AR-based screens (like those in Google Glass) will be dramatic, especially since by 2025 pathways will have opened up to practical kinds of cyberware, i.e. devices implanted in the human body.

Many have noted how Google Glass will pose unprecedented threats to privacy and public safety. It’s difficult to imagine, however, that Google will be dissuaded by these concerns, especially since its highly successful advertising model has always depended on persuading its customers that its data-mining practices are well worth any affronts to privacy. Unlike embedded technologies, wearables will at least have the benefit of raising widespread public awareness about these issues. It’s thus unlikely that AR-assisted wearables like Google Glass will become accepted by mainstreamers until 3rd-party developers have managed to create countervailing technologies – affordable “jamming suits” and other cloaking devices that block the transmission of photographic images and other data in public places where people are mingling. If public benefits do flow from the IofT, they are much more likely to do so in connection with wearable as opposed to embedded devices. Embedded technologies lend themselves to insidious purposes like tagging and other forms of passive data collection, providing tempting opportunities for abuse. By contrast, micro devices like Intel’s Edision chip might be used in ways that leave end-users a little more in control of their devices and the functions they provide. Given the fate suffered in recent years by general-purpose computing, in favor of apps and walled gardens, however, consumer empowerment is far from a foregone conclusion for the future IofT.