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December 19, 2014

Optimism for ‘Internet of Things’ in New Report

The general consensus is that the next decade will bring positive developments for the Internet of Things, according to a new report from the Pew Research Center and Elon University that analyzed responses from more than 1,600 people, including scientists, academics, and people in industry. Respondents raised concerns about privacy and disenfranchisement of the unconnected, but overall their outlook was upbeat, according to Pew:

The vast majority of respondents to the 2014 Future of the Internet canvassing agree that the expanding network of everything and everyone — the growth of the Internet of Things and embedded and wearable devices — will have widespread and beneficial effects by 2025. They say the opportunities and challenges resulting from amplified connectivity will influence nearly everything, nearly everyone, nearly everywhere.

The report, a joint project by the Pew Research Center Internet Project and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center, says there were several themes in the responses, including expectations that the Internet of Things will substantially advance by 2025, that this would raise “substantial concerns about privacy and people’s abilities to control their own lives,” it could result in disenfranchisement of the unconnected, there will be “complicated, unintended consequences,” and that people’s responses to the Internet of Things will “recast” relationships.

On the matter of advances by 2025, the report notes: “Some respondents were less optimistic—saying the 2025 advances mentioned in our question will be unevenly achieved—and a few pooh-poohed the Internet of Things.”

Vint Cerf, vice president and chief Internet evangelist for Google, gave this response to Pew:

“The benefit is that these appliances will be coordinated to improve our daily lives,” he wrote. “The risk is that inimical forces may gain control and create serious problems. Wearables will monitor health and also draw computers into the context of our daily lives, conversations, and activities. A big opportunity for AI [Artificial Intelligence] awaits. Privacy will be hard to come by. Barriers to the Internet of Things include failure to achieve sufficient standardization and security.”

Marjory Blumenthal, the executive director of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology — which is part of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy — gave this response to Pew:

“There will be widespread effects, for sure. Beneficial effects are likely, but they are not the only ones… Google Glass, and other technologies for capturing, sharing, and streaming images, can have a chilling effect… and can have unintended consequences (i.e., disclosure of the location of domestic violence victims who have escaped their tormentors). Benign interactions will increase; it’s how to deal with the others that’s a challenge.”

The report also quotes Raymond Plzak,  a board member for the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and former American Registry for Internet Numbers CEO:

“The answer is ‘no’ [to widespread and beneficial effects by 2025] if there continues to exist manner and means to exploit data stored in the Cloud and to invade privacy, no matter how much of it is voluntarily surrendered in the social media world.”

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