What is the Internet of Things – Explain

  • From fitness trackers to smart heating systems, the Internet of Things (IoT) describes the growing network of Internet-enabled devices.
  • They are also enabling smart cities and, in the future, self-driving cars.
  • Along with other emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things is part of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
  • COVID-19 has accelerated the use of IoT technologies, but governance questions remain.

From soil moisture sensors used to improve farmers’ yields, to thermostats and thermometers, the Internet of Things (IoT) is changing the way we live and work.

Billions of networked “smart” physical objects around the world, on city streets, in homes and in hospitals, are constantly collecting and sharing data over the Internet, giving them a level of digital intelligence and independence.

About a quarter of companies were using IoT technologies in 2019, according to McKinsey, up from 13% in 2014.

Indeed, there are more connected devices than people in the world, according to the State of the Connected World report from the World Economic Forum, and it is projected that by 2025, 41.6 billion devices will capture data about how we live, work, move through our cities and operate and maintain the machines we depend on. on her.

The digital transformation that is occurring due to emerging technologies, including robotics, the Internet of Things, and artificial intelligence, is known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution – and COVID-19 has accelerated the use of these technologies.

The growth rate of Internet of Things connections.

How COVID-19 has accelerated the adoption of Internet of Things technologies.

Photo: World Economic Forum

The World Economic Forum was the first to draw the world’s attention to the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the current period of unprecedented change driven by rapid technological progress. Policies, norms, and regulations have not been able to keep up with the pace of innovation, creating a growing need to bridge this gap.

The Forum established the Fourth Industrial Revolution Network Center in 2017 to ensure that new and emerging technologies will help – not harm – humanity in the future. Headquartered in San Francisco, the network launched centers in China, India, and Japan in 2018 and is rapidly setting up locally managed affiliate centers in many countries around the world.


The global network works closely with partners from government, business, academia and civil society to co-design and pilot agile frameworks for managing new and emerging technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI), autonomous vehicles, blockchain, data policy, digital commerce, drones and the Internet Things (IoT), precision medicine, and environmental innovations.

Learn more about the pioneering work the Fourth Industrial Revolution Network Center is doing to prepare us for the future.

Do you want to help us shape the Fourth Industrial Revolution? Contact us to find out how you can become a member or partner.

A Brief History of the Internet of Things

The concept of adding sensors and intelligence to physical objects was first discussed in the 1980s, when some college students decided to modify a Coca-Cola vending machine to remotely track its contents. But the technology was huge and progress was limited.

Computer scientist Kevin Ashton coined the term “Internet of Things” in 1999. While working at Procter & Gamble, Ashton suggested placing radio frequency identification (RFID) chips on products to trace them through the supply chain.

He reportedly used the then buzzword “the Internet” in his proposal to get executives’ attention. The phrase stuck.

Over the next decade, public interest in IoT technology began to boom, with more and more connected devices appearing on the market.

In 2000, LG announced the first smart refrigerator, in 2007 the first iPhone was released, and by 2008, the number of connected devices exceeded the number of people on the planet.

In 2009, Google began testing driverless cars and in 2011, Google’s smart thermostat hit the market, allowing remote control of central heating.

Connected devices fall into three areas: consumer Internet of Things, such as wearable devices, enterprise Internet of Things, which includes smart factories and precision agriculture, and public spaces Internet of things, such as waste management.

Companies are using the Internet of Things to improve their supply chains, manage inventory, and improve customer experience, while smart consumer devices like the Amazon Echo speaker are becoming ubiquitous in homes due to the proliferation of low-cost, low-power sensors.

Cities have been deploying Internet of Things technology for more than a decade – simplifying everything from water meter readings to traffic flow.

“In New York City, for example, every single building (more than 817,000) has been updated with a wireless water meter, starting in 2008, which replaced the manual system where you had to walk up to a meter to read numbers and create numbers,” says Jeff Merritt, Head of Internet Things and urban transformation at the World Economic Forum, it bills this way.

“Many cities now make use of license plate readers, traffic meters, red light cameras, radiation sensors and surveillance cameras to manage day-to-day operations.”

Diagram of the Internet of Things

Diagram of the Internet of Things.

Photo: Pixabay

In medicine, IoT can help improve healthcare with real-time remote patient monitoring, robotic surgery, and devices such as smart inhalers.

In the past 12 months, the role of the Internet of Things in the COVID-19 pandemic has been invaluable.

“IoT applications such as connected thermal cameras, contact tracers, and health-monitoring wearables provide critical data needed to help fight disease, while temperature sensors and parcel tracking will help ensure sensitive COVID-19 vaccines are safely distributed,” according to the State of the Connected World report. in the forum.

In addition to healthcare, the Internet of Things has helped make supply chains disrupted by the coronavirus more resilient and automated activities in warehouses and factory floors to help promote social distancing and provide secure remote access to industrial machinery.

The scope of potential IoT applications is “limited only by human imagination” – and many of these applications can benefit the planet, as well as people.

A 2018 analysis of more than 640 IoT deployments, led by the World Economic Forum in collaboration with research firm IoT Analytics, showed that 84% of current IoT deployments address or have the potential to advance the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

These include promoting more efficient use of natural resources, building better and fairer “smart cities”, and developing clean and affordable energy alternatives.

IoT smart roads that connect to self-driving cars could improve driver safety and improve traffic flow, potentially reducing average commute time by 30 minutes. Emergency responder times can also be significantly reduced.

Predictive police tools and real-time crime mapping can also help prevent crime. McKinsey estimates that using data to deploy scarce resources more effectively could save 300 lives a year in a city with the population and character of Rio de Janeiro.

But for all the benefits, IoT technologies can also be misused and the risks include security and privacy issues, cybercrime, surveillance at work, at home or in public spaces, and mobility and expression control.

The main differences between the Internet of Things and traditional digital systems are in safety and security.

The Internet of Things carries safety and security risks.

Photo: World Economic Forum

The Forum’s Connected State of the World Report identifies the ‘governance gap’ that must be bridged between potential risks and society’s efforts to protect against them through laws, industry standards, and self-management approaches.

“Effective technology management mitigates risks and minimizes potential harm to society while also helping to maximize the positive impacts of technology.”

Industry leaders meet April 6-7 at the World Economic Forum Global Technology Governance SummitIt is dedicated to ensuring responsible design and diffusion of emerging technologies through public-private collaboration.