Future of the Internet: Solving Real-World Problems

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A man holds an electric toothbrush connected to a tablet device at the SIdO, the Connected Business trade show in Lyon, April 7, 2015. Reuters

This article originally appeared on the Motley Fool. 

Dave Evans spent 24 years at  Cisco Systems, working his way up to a title that sounds like it came out of a science fiction novel.

As "chief futurist" for the technology company, he was a member of the company's Corporate Technology Group (CTG), where he was responsible for identifying disruptive technologies that were relevant and aligned with Cisco. In his time in that job, Evans saw the "Internet of Things" (IoT) develop from concept to reality.

That was at least partly responsible for him leaving the company and co-founding Stringify, a company that hopes to help people better manage their physical and digital connected "things."

"During my time at Cisco, I spent a great deal of time evangelizing and shaping the thinking around IoT, not just for Cisco, but for our customers and to a point, the industry," he said. "I quickly came to realize that everything would get connected, but it wasn't just about the things—it was what these things could do for people."

Now, with his new company, Evans has been working to figure out how people will incorporate IoT in their everyday lives.

"It was clear to me that these things would be connected to vast amounts of intelligence and services, and that these new capabilities could significantly shape every industry," he wrote. "IoT would change how we grew our food, how we would manage our environment, how we would manage our cities and our homes, how we would scale our healthcare systems, and so much more—no industry would be immune to the effects of IoT."

Evans, through a series of email questions, shared his opinions on where IoT is now and where it's going.

The IoT is already here

Evans noted that there are already 20 billion things connected to the Internet today, with billions more projected in the next few years.

"It may surprise people how often they interact with IoT and yet not realize it," he wrote. "The connected thermostat on the wall, the ATM machine they use, the wearable on their wrist, the traffic light they drive through, or the business they frequent, these are all examples of the Internet of Things."

The former chief futurist also explained that much of the food purchased at local grocery stores may have been managed via IoT technology and the "the medicine you take may have been from an IoT-enabled supply chain." He also added that the the water you drink from your faucet may have been tracked via an IoT-enabled pipe.

"IoT is everywhere," he said. "Sometimes it is invisible, diligently doing its job, and sometimes it is very blatant such as the computer on your desk. IoT is already something regular people use."

Do you need to know what IoT is?

One of the challenges facing all emerging technology is getting people to use it. Even seemingly simple things like programming your DVR have a learning curve, but Evans does not believe the IoT will have that problem. "If IoT is done well, people will not have to understand it to use it," he wrote. "Technology should adapt to us (not the other way around)."

The challenge in making that happen is in getting all the connected things to work together. That's the goal of Evans' company and he expects ease of use to be an ongoing theme for all companies working with connected devices. He also believes how people interact with their devices is going to evolve.

"We will see more and more natural interfaces to IoT—voice, face, gesture, perhaps eventually thought that allow for even simpler use," he said. "For example, being able to speak to your front door, thermostat, lights, etc., to control them. We are already seeing the early signs of this with incredible products like  Amazon 's Alexa,  Apple 's Siri and 'OK Google.'"

The IoT can't be based on gimmicks

Some of the first IoT devices being offered to consumers have a wow factor that disappears quickly. It may be cool to be able to address your toaster via your phone, but nobody actually needs to do that even if it seems like it might be fun.

 "IoT has to solve real problems," Evans wrote. "Gimmicky products and solutions don't last long. Products and solutions that save money, save energy, increase safety, provide quality entertainment, access to useful information and services are the ones that will have staying power. IoT solutions that provide these capabilities will be attractive to people and will be the first foothold and lasting solution in people's homes."

While Evans clearly has a vested interest in the growth of the IoT, he believes it will eventually be good for all mankind. "IoT will help address some of our major challenges. Food, water, climate, health, to name just a few. Everyone benefits when IoT is done right," he said.