The Internet of Things: everything you need to know

The true genius of the Internet of Things is actually the power of being able to process and make conclusions from huge amounts of empirical data, and that is something that we are increasingly in a position to do quickly and efficiently and, often, without the need for any human input.

Cerf himself recognises the potential problems with a truly connected world, telling an anecdote about that most famous trope of connected home devices, the humble fridge.

Internet of Things

Do you want your fridge judging you?

"I've often wondered what else you could do with an internet enabled refrigerator and I thought, you know, if you had a little RFID chip on everything you had in the refrigerator it would know everything that it had inside," he says.

"When you are off at work it can be surfing for recipes for the stuff it knows it has inside so when you come back you see a nice list of recipes that you could do for dinner.

"You could extrapolate this: you can imagine maybe you are on holiday and you get an email - it's from your refrigerator and it says 'that milk you put in me three weeks ago - it's about to crawl out on its own now' or maybe you're shopping and you get a text message saying don't forget the marinara sauce then I'll have everything I need for spaghetti dinner tonight.

"I have to tell you that our Japanese friends have really destroyed this idyllic vision. They've developed a set of internet-enabled scales so when you get on it figures out what family member you are and then uploads that information to the web and to the medical record with your doctor.

"That seems perfectly okay but the problem is that the refrigerator is on the same network so when you get home you see diet recipes coming up or maybe it just refuses to open. So it's a terrible idea."


Indeed, many believe we shouldn't be rushing to put chips and tags on all of our possessions. Nest, a company that makes smart devices such as thermostats and smoke alarms is run by ex-iPod chief Tony Fadell - and he was adamant that some data is just not worth gathering (yet).

"Just because you can connect something doesn't mean that you should," he insists.

"Connection is another technology that can dramatically change a product and an experience but people are just connecting anything.

NEST s well received thermostat

NEST's well-received thermostat

"People are like, I am going to bash Wi-Fi with a toaster, or with a kettle. The other day I saw that someone was doing it with a water bottle. It doesn't make sense.

"You have to think about the entire experience of the product. Once you rethink the entire product, then connectivity is right.

Tony Fadell: "Just because you can connect something doesn't mean that you should."

"There are some products that can be rethought with connectivity. We are showing this at Nest but not everything needs to have the full smartphone experience."

Things done changed

It's clear that keeping a firm grip on data is of paramount importance to both business and individuals. Data is neither good nor bad, but it can be used for both and the Internet of Things is a mechanism that is uniquely placed to provide the next wave of information.

The utopian view of a huge AI benignly making our environment safer, more productive and more interesting has the Internet of Things at its heart, but so does the more dystopian Orwellian nightmare scenario where our every move is monitored.

The likely truth is that the future lies somewhere between the two, but it's okay to be both wary of the repercussions and thrilled by the potential as we make our way inexorably down the path to a truly connected world.