Rant: The Internet of Things Is Nothing New

Promoters of the information technology sector have a richly merited reputation for spouting nonsense. Marketing tricks include ‘silver bullet’ solutions to all your problems, promises that all will be well in the next-generation product, baffle-them-with-BS piling up of technobollox jargon, and renaming things that already exist and presenting them as new. It seems to me that what we are invited to call the Internet of Things is exemplary in accommodating all of the above.

The Internet of Things has a dire name that, oddly enough brings to mind a wonderful poet, John Keats, but only his famous clunker of a line, “a thing of beauty is a joy forever”.

It’s not new, not even close. Ever since the World Wide Web, people have talked up the possibilities of connecting home appliances, factory equipment, vehicles and so on. It’s happening in dribbles, spurts, fits and starts. Printers that can be controlled via a browser have been around for over 20 years. Webcams the same. Sun’s Jini project was announced in 1998.       

Promises, promises. It’s said that that adding ‘intelligence’ to quotidian objects will change the way we interact with the world. Well, up to a point, Lord Copper. We already carry around devices that provide a full index of the world’s information together and are packed with sensors. Weather stations relay information to them. Transport systems provide real-time updates on services. They enable us to be intimately connected to friends, colleagues and strangers. They’re called phones.

Dumb objects can be made ‘smart’, say the pundits. But traffic lights can already report back on status, as can power meters, cars and much else. We can tag our pets too to identify them and even locate them. Improvements will be iterative and often useful but that’s just technological evolution. And we will still have to be sensible about what these ‘intelligent’ systems tell us and be aware that Google’s journey guidance can lose its sense of direction; that despite consuming vast numbers of MIPS, meteorological departments appear unable to predict whether it will rain; that wearable fitness devices can’t reliably measure footstep count, never mind sleep patterns…

The Internet of Things took a while to become a ‘thing’ but it already feels like a tired meme, a worn-out trope soon to be added to the huge, steaming pile of attempts to hype the heck out of anything vaguely novel or saleable.


Martin Veitch is Editorial Director at IDG Connect


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Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Contributing Editor for IDG Connect

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