The Internet of Things in the age of interconnectivity

Global online interconnectivity has woven itself seamlessly into our lives. How many of us can conceive of a modern life without the internet?

Going about our daily lives both personally and professionally, we reach for our mobile phones and devices for news, information, entertainment, and to communicate with each other. The ease and expectation of accessing information online 24/7 is taken as a matter of course. What most people may not consider, however, is how all this information technology is delivered to us. Digital transformation, due to emerging technologies, continues to grow exponentially. The Internet of Things (IoT) is an essential, and integral, element in ensuring current and future business success.

What is the Internet of Things and how did it evolve?

Simply put, the IoT is the concept of networking connected devices so that they can collect and transmit data. Nowadays, it enables digital technology to be embedded in our physical world, such as in our homes, cars, and buildings, via vast networks connecting to computers.

Historically, the concept of IoT devices has an interesting timeline, and its early pioneers are names that remain well-known to many of us today:

  • 1832. Baron Schilling creates the electromagnetic telegraph.
  • 1833. Carl Friedrich Gauss and Wilhelm Weber invent a code-enabling telegraphic communication.
  • 1844. Samuel Morse transmits the first Morse code public message from Washington D.C. to Baltimore.
  • 1926. Nikola Tesla conceives of a time when what we know as a mobile phone will become a reality.
  • 1950. Alan Turing foresees the advent of artificial intelligence.
  • 1989. Tim Berners-Lee develops the concept of the World Wide Web.

Even ordinary physical objects became the subject of IoT applications:

  • 1982. Carnegie-Mellon University students install micro switches to check the inventory levels of Coca-Cola vending machines and to see whether they were cold enough to drink.
  • 1990. John Romkey and Simon Hackett connect a toaster to the internet.

As the technology and research grew exponentially from the 1960s onwards, the actual term ‘Internet of Things’ was coined in 1999 by Proctor & Gamble’s Kevin Ashton. By 2008, the first international conference on IoT was held in Switzerland. By 2021, it was reported that there were 35.82 billion IoT devices installed globally, with projections of 75.44 billion worldwide by 2025.

Real-world application

Given the huge potential of IoT technology, the scale of its cross-sector assimilation is unsurprising. For example, it impacts:

  • The consumer market. Designed to make life easier, consider the sheer number of internet-enabled smart devices – including wearables and other goods – that are in daily use. Common examples include smartphones and smartwatches, fitness trackers, home assistants, kitchen appliances, boilers, and home security cameras. We interact with internet connectivity every day; increasingly, many of us are already living in ‘smart’ homes. Optimising the customer experience is key to business success. Whether related to data-collecting thermostats which monitor energy consumption, or wifi providers which supply the best Bluetooth packages, all are driven by IoT systems.
  • Physical world infrastructure. On a grander scale, IoT technology is now focused on developing smart buildings and, in the long run, smart cities. In buildings, elements such as heating, lighting, lifts and security are already directed by automation. In the outside world, real-time, data-gathering traffic systems and networks rely on IoT to share data using machine learning and artificial intelligence.
  • Industrial and domestic sectors. Where, previously, many items and goods were manufactured and serviced off-grid, everything is now internet-connected. Items used domestically include washing machines, doorbells, thermostats, and gadgets and virtual assistant technology such as Alexa and Siri. Amazon distribution centres, factories and international mail delivery systems are all examples of environments that are reliant on IoT platforms.
  • Transportation. In an area of highly complex logistics, keeping the supply chain moving and reaching its destination is critical. The same can be applied to all other modes of transport, such as aeroplanes, ships, trains and vehicles. For the individual, connected cars are already a reality. Many vehicles have the ability to communicate with other systems and devices, sharing both internet access and data.
  • Healthcare. The impact of the global Covid pandemic has taken a huge toll on our lives. The stresses on worldwide healthcare and medical business models have become ever more pressing. The need for strategies and solutions to deliver optimal healthcare, as modelled on IoT, is being researched by many organisations including Microsoft. Devices such as pacemakers, cochlear implants, digital pills, and wearable tech such as diabetic control sensors, are making invaluable contributions to patients across the sector.

The technology behind the Internet of Things

IoT technology presents immeasurable benefits in our lives, and its scope is seemingly limitless. IoT platforms are interconnected networks of devices which constantly source, exchange, gather and share big data using cloud computing or physical databases. They consist of:

  • Devices. These connect to the internet and incorporate sensors and software which connect with other devices. For example, the Apple watch connects to the internet, uses cloud computing, and also connects with the Apple iPhone.
  • Communications. Examples include Bluetooth, MQTT, wifi and Zigbee.
  • Cloud computing. This refers to the internet-based network on which data from IoT devices and applications is stored.
  • Edge computing. The use of tools such as IBM’s edge computing uses artificial intelligence to help solve business problems, increase security, and enhance both capacity and resilience.
  • Maintenance and monitoring. Monitoring and troubleshooting these devices and communications is essential to ensure optimum functionality.

Inevitably, while the benefits to both international businesses and organisations are immense, IoT technology also attracts cybercrime and hackers. Cyber security threats target all areas of IoT – from businesses to individual users.

IoT has been hailed as the fourth Industrial Revolution. Future technology is already blending artificial intelligence with IoT, with the aim of enabling our personal and professional lives to become simpler, safer and more personalised. In fact, in terms of IoT security, artificial intelligence can be used for:

  • Evaluating information for optimisation
  • Learning previous routines
  • Decreasing down times in functionality
  • Increasing the efficiency and efficacy of procedures
  • Creating solutions to ward off potential threats, thus enhancing security

Career prospects

Career opportunities within the computer science and artificial intelligence fields may include, but are not limited to:

  • Natural language processing
  • Machine learning engineering
  • Semantic technology
  • Data science
  • Business intelligence development
  • Research science
  • Big data engineering/architecture

Choosing the right AI and computer science course for you

If you’re looking for the qualifications to help you succeed in the fast-paced and highly rewarding field of IoT, then choose the University of York’s online MSc Computer Science with Artificial Intelligence programme.