By the year 2025, the "Internet of Things" will bring improvements in convenience and efficiency, but at the expense of privacy, social divisions and complex problems, experts predict.
Wearable devices that track health and activity will become more widespread, smart homes will enable people to control appliances remotely and sensors in the environment will optimize energy use and other resources, according to a group of technology gurus surveyed for the Pew Research Center Internet Project, honoring the 25th anniversary of the Internet.
The vast majority of people surveyed said that the Internet of Things — the notion that physical objects can interact with each other online — will likely impact the daily lives of most people who live in developed areas by 2025, said Janna Anderson, professor of communications at Elon University in North Carolina and co-author of the report released today (May 14). [Infographic: Experts Predict the Future of the 'Internet of Things']
However, "These voices are expressing optimism well tempered by fairly urgent warnings that negatives come with the positives," Anderson told Live Science.
Internet of Things
Experts predict the future Internet of Things will bring changes in a wide variety of areas.
Wearable devices will become even more ubiquitous, providing a link to the Internet and a way to track activity, health and fitness, experts say. The constant monitoring has the potential to vastly improve health care, some say.
Smart homes will enable residents to control their environment remotely, whether it’s the temperature or the sprinkler schedule. And sensors will detect security threats or broken appliances, according to the report. [11 Odd and Intriguing Smart Home Technologies]
At the community level, smart devices will make transportation more efficient, sense pollution levels or control the delivery of electricity or water, sensing when there's a problem in the system.
Industry will ride the wave of technology too, with factories and supply chains being able to track materials and speed up the manufacture and distribution of goods, the report said.
Meanwhile, environmental monitoring will provide real-time information about land, ocean or air quality, soil moisture or mining, with the ability to alert authorities to any problems.
But the future isn't all cheery and bright, experts warn. Some say trends in technology threaten online privacy and personal relationships, creating tension between early adopters and those left behind.
A world so steeped in data and connectivity raises concerns about people's ability to control their lives and personal information, the report said. Greater monitoring will also make it easier to profile or target people, which could widen social and economic gaps.
"We will continue to surrender our privacy and control over our lives to facilitate convenience," Anderson said, summarizing responses in the report.
Some experts warned that technology advances may not live up to their hype. For example, while they expect voice and touch interfaces to improve, few people think human brains will be connected to computer networks by 2025.
Other experts expressed concern that an increasingly technical society will give rise to complex problems. "We will live in a world where many things won't work and nobody will know how to fix them," one survey respondent said.
Machine-to-machine (M2M) communication, in which devices talk to each other directly, will become increasingly common, and could keep humans out of the loop, some worry.
Society will become more and more virtually connected. But there will be those who can't be connected, or simply choose not to be, ushering in a digital divide.
Some experts also raised concerns about the motives people may have to exploit the Internet of Things.
Technology can be used for good or evil, but humans have historically adopted new gadgets or devices if they became available, Anderson said. It's not always possible to predict what will happen, but it's going to be interesting, she said.