The Internet of Things Is Here

[For several years there’s been growing talk about the Internet of Things (IoT). In this Educause article Florence Hudson looks at the trend and the possible risks as well as benefits. While K-12 has not jumped on the IoT bandwagon, it’s still important to think about the trend, especially in light of the growing number of issues around privacy and security.]


The Internet of Things (IoT) is a topic that engenders excitement, skepticism, and anxiety. Supporting these feelings are expectations regarding the potential value that the IoT can create today and into the future, the “hype-cycle” considerations, and the risks regarding security and privacy. Yet the fact is, the Internet of Things is here. Now. Higher education thus has an opportunity to support the development and deployment of the technical and business model innovations for an IoT-enabled economy, to build the leaders of the IoT-enabled economy today and into the future, and to address the TIPPSS risks related to the IoT: Trust, Identity, Privacy, Protection, Safety, and Security.

The current reality of the IoT is already staggering, not even considering the expectations and hype about the future: billions of physical devices, across the world, that have digital sensors and are interconnected by leveraging the Internet or other network technology. An estimated 13.4 billion devices were connected in 2015, representing more than twice the human population on the planet at the time, and this number is projected to nearly triple, to 38.5 billion devices, by 2020.1

Connecting the physical to the digital world can encompass a wide range of objects: vehicles, appliances, lighting, health and wellness devices, manufacturing systems, buildings, bridges, water pipes, food containers, electric meters, security systems, cameras, wearable devices, drones, and many more. These objects are connected through a digital sensor that collects and transmits data to other devices or to a centralized management system. The public Internet or private networks connecting these devices provide the communications between these devices—or “things.”

A report recently published by Internet2 highlights the IoT at the top of the “Key Information and Communications Technology Trends for the Research and Education Community” through 2025.2 According to some estimates, the IoT could create $11.1 trillion in global economic value by 2025, representing 11 percent of global gross domestic product (GDP).3 This economic value reflects both the upside revenue potential for IoT-related devices, applications, and services and also the efficiencies and cost reductions generated through the IoT. This multi-trillion-dollar opportunity not only attracts investments but also requires innovation in technology and business models to be enabled. The risk factors of the IoT require additional research and development.

The higher education community can lead the development of the technologies, business models, ethics, and leaders of the IoT-enabled world. For example, professors of engineering and computer science are directing IoT labs for the improvement of IoT technologies, including security design. They can work with business schools to design curricula and form IoT clubs to create new business models. Law schools can teach IoT ethics, privacy, and policy. Medical schools can enable the “Internet of Medical Things.” Informatics programs can teach how to leverage the volumes of IoT data, with TIPPSS. Through such efforts, the higher education community can work across disciplines to develop the technologies, business models, and leaders for the IoT-enabled economy of the future.

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