Much of the recent writing and discussions on the internet have focused on political issues such as ACTA, SOPA, and Net Neutrality. These are incredibly important issues facing the internet today. But politics aside, what is the technological future of the internet? What will the internet look like twenty years from now? The internet of the future will no longer be a place – it will be ubiquitous.
It has been some time since we “logged on” to the internet. Most of us have ditched dial-up ages ago. I still have fond memories of the sounds my modem would make. The dial tone, the numbers being dialed, and the funny connection static. That last noise signaling the handshake was complete and I could now surf the web. Today, we turn on our computers and they are already connected. Our wi-fi enabled devices have already stored our connection settings and connect to any network in memory automatically. While wi-fi and cell phones have enabled us to bring the internet with us, the future of the internet will spill out of our homes even more. It will free itself from our devices and become available to us wherever we are. It will be embedded in our appliances, our buildings, our clothing, and even our trash.
Before you laugh at the idea of the much promised and never materialized internet appliances – like the refrigerator that you could buy groceries on – let me make my case. The internet appliances we were all promised crashed and burned. They will come back, but they will not be the ones we were promised. They will be more along the lines of automation systems that we see in large commercial and industrial buildings.
For example, there are thermostats that let you control them via the internet or through your phone. I promised you that the internet of the future would not require us to carry devices, so let me introduce Nest. Nest allows you to configure it through the web, it reports and analyzes your energy consumption, but most importantly, it can connect to a wi-fi network and obtain weather conditions and forecasts to understand how the weather affects your energy use.
While smart fashion is not something that I think will take off tomorrow, it provides proof that companies are looking at embedding the internet in our pants, bras, and shoes. One of the most popular articles of smart clothing is Nike+, shoes that sync with your iPod or iPhone, and track your time, distance and calories burned. You can program the shoe to make your iDevice play power songs for that extra motivation when you need it.
Smart buildings are usually thought of as buildings that can help reduce energy consumption through more advanced automation systems like thermostats, automatic lighting, and even automatic window shades. The smart buildings that will exist in the future will live on the ubiquitous internet. They will respond to external stimuli and networked interaction. Bitfall is a project that displays images from the internet on a water wall.
SNIFF is a building facade that displays a dog that interacts with pedestrians as they walk by. SNIFF is an example of how future network technology will become so interactive that we will lose sight of the computers used to control the environment. The behaviour of SNIFF will change based on the actions of the person in front of him. See SNIFF in action in the video below.
Maybe your trash will never be smart, but the ability to use networks to track trash from where it originated to where it ends up is impressive. This is exactly what the MIT SENSEable City Lab has done. Attaching tags to trash in Seattle and New York, they were able to map trash as it moved across the country. Through their visualizations, you can see a cell phone start in Seattle and wind up at a recycling plant in Florida.
Sitting at a computer and using the internet is the past. In the future, the internet will be ubiquitous. We will be surrounded by objects that are connected and our actions and interactions with them will be recorded, sent to others, and will change our environment. These objects will be able to perform functions without us entering input from a keyboard or a mouse – even the touch screen may become passé. The internet will no longer be a virtual world we go to, but it will spill out into our world and become the world we live in.