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ELON, N.C. – Bodies, homes, communities, goods and services, the environment – experts predict the Internet of Things will be evident in many places in the near future, according to new report out this month.

Pew Research Center’s Internet Project and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center together published an in-depth look at responses from technology experts all over the world. Totaling more than 200 pages, these are some the most thoughtful, provocative, and contrarian commentaries on the subject to date.

For this project, more than 12,000 experts and members of the interested public were invited to share their opinions on the likely future of the Internet, and 2,551 responded to at least one of the questions asked. Nearly 1,600 responded to an open-ended question about the Internet of Things with responses grouped into five major themes:

1. The Internet of Things and wearable computing will progress significantly between now and 2025.

2. The realities of this data-drenched world raise substantial concerns about privacy and people’s abilities to control their own lives. If many everyday activities are monitored and people are generating informational outputs, the level of profiling and targeting will grow and amplify social, economic and political struggles.

3. Information interfaces will advance, especially voice and touch commands, but few expect that brain-to-network connectivity will be typical in most daily lives in 2025.

4. There will be complicated, unintended consequences: “We will live in a world where many things won’t work and nobody will know how to fix them.”

5. The unconnected and those who just don’t want to be connected may be disenfranchised. Consider the ramifications of digital divides.

According to the report, many experts say the rise of embedded and wearable computing will bring the next revolution in digital technology. They say the upsides are enhanced health, convenience, productivity, safety, and vastly more useful information for people and organizations. The downsides include challenges to personal privacy, over-hyped expectations, and tech complexity that boggle us.

“These voices are expressing optimism well-tempered by fairly urgent warnings that negatives come with the positives,” said Janna Anderson, co-author of the report and director of the Imagining the Internet Center, in an interview with WRAL Tech Wire. “This is an indication that policy makers and everyone else should stay focused on all of the ramifications of the evolving use of complex technologies – they pose large ethical and moral challenges. The experts believe we need to more carefully evaluate this evolution before it unfolds.”

The expert predictions reported about the impact of the Internet over the next 10 years came in response to one of eight questions asked between Nov. 25, 2013, and Jan. 13, 2014.

Among the commonly stated (and at times competing) points emerging from more than 1,600 respondents’ answers was that The Internet of things, embedded machine to machine (M2M), and wearable computing will progress significantly between now and 2025, according to the report’s overview.
“The biggest impact by 2025 will be in M2M interfaces,” as noted in the summary, “where devices talk to each other and accomplish programmed tasks. There are hurdles to be overcome, and there’s likely to be only slow progress by 2025, despite today’s trends and enthusiasts’ optimism. People will continue to just say ‘no’ to the programmable fridge, ‘yes’ to keyboards; wearables and the Internet of Things are not likely to have widespread visible impact.”

North Carolina responses

There were a several North Carolina-based respondents in the survey and many requested to remain anonymous. Paul Jones, a professor at UNC and founder of ibiblio.org, did cite his response (see below in its entirety):

“As we age, we are more thankful for embeddables and wearables. About 10 years back, I did a talk to UNC alumni and tried to get a discussion going about ‘body invasion’ by embedded advices. Everyone was fine by that. They wanted more and smaller and smarter. They were the class of 1950, and most living improved lives just with the kludgy devices from the turn of this century. The population curve, in the United States, at least, will cause much of the monitoring and assistance by intelligent devices to be welcomed and extended. This is what we had in mind all along – augmented life extension. Young people, you can thank us later. We look like Kung Fu fighters with no visible opponents now, but soon, the personalized interface issues will settle on a combination of gestures and voice. Thought-driven? Not by 2025, but not yet out of the question for a further future. Glass and watch interfaces are a start at this combination of strokes, acceleration, voice, and even shaking and touching device-to-device. The key will be separating random human actions from intentional ones, then translating those into machine commands—search, call, direct, etc.”

What about bandwidth?

Many of the sensors and actuators of the Internet of Things will not be taking up much bandwidth as they communicate information, according to analysts, as M2M generally doesn’t take up bandwidth. Humans watching videos and sharing photos, even when these are compressed files, take up the preponderance of bandwidth, as noted in Cisco’s Visual Networking Index, one of the most-respected estimates on the bandwidth demand of the future.

What about net neutrality?

This complicated issue was addressed by some respondents in the survey. Aggregating responses, 83 percent in some fashion said the Internet of Things will be prominent in our daily lives in 2025 because businesses will be able to monetize it and governments and corporations will be able to use it to tag, track and database information about everything on the planet (living or not). There are not too many roadblocks anticipated because most assume the people in power are going to make it happen so they can make money and have more control if the Internet of Things exists.

The details

This report is the latest research report in a sustained effort throughout 2014 by the Pew Research Center’s Internet Project to mark the 25th anniversary of the creation of the World Wide Web by Sir Tim Berners-Lee (The Web at 25).

There have been two reports published already this year (February and March). This latest report is the sixth Future of the Internet study to date that the two organizations have conducted together.