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A Global Brain

How the Internet of Things has interconnected our world

When wireless is perfectly applied, the whole earth will be converted into a huge brain, which in fact it is … We shall be able to communicate with one another instantly, irrespective of distance. Not only this, but through television and telephony we shall see and hear one another as perfectly as though we were face to face, despite intervening distances of thousands of miles.

This was how Nikola Tesla, the visionary Serbian-American engineer and inventor, envisaged the future in 1926. Besides clearly predicting the advent of mobile telephony and video calls, Tesla also imagined the “whole earth … converted into a huge brain.” Indeed, the Internet of Things is just that: a huge brain, a vast network of artificial intelligence.

Early Communication Networks

The telegraph, the telex and the telephone systems, our first functional long-distance communication systems, were all originally based on dedicated, end-to-end, electronic connections between two communicating stations. Later, circuit switching allowed communication networks to take advantage of intermediate connections that were reconfigured as necessary to interlink any two stations. In fact, the first computers used the very same system to transmit data.


By the late sixties, in the middle of the cold war, the United States Department of Defence had begun developing a system that would ensure communications to continue working even if major nodes in the network were destroyed. At the same time, universities were looking at how to share research data. Their combined efforts led to the development of the Arpanet.

The Arpanet was the first communications network to implement packet-switching technology, overcoming the linear connection issue between communicating stations, as well as the TCP/IP Protocol, both of which would become fundamental cornerstones of the Internet.

The Internet

The Arpanet was fully decommissioned by the Department of Defence by 1990.

In 1989, just as commercial Internet service providers (ISPs) were beginning to allow public access to the Internet throughout the United States and Europe, CERN engineer Tim Berners-Lee created the World Wide Web. Then, in 1991, the public release of Berners-Lee’s first web browser programme provided millions of people around the world with easy access to the Internet. It was the dawn of the Information Age.

The Internet rapidly developed into a vast global network that interlinked the information resources and services of private, public, academic, business, and government networks with electronic mail, telephony and file sharing services.

The Internet of Things

As the name implies, the Internet of Things (IoT) englobes the entire Internet, the billions of devices that can be interconnected and accessed remotely, and sensor-equipped infrastructure.

Although the concept had been around for decades, the actual term “Internet of Things” was not coined until 1999 by Engineer Kevin Ashton. And, in the same year, MIT Professor Neil Gershenfeld argued that even before computers became ubiquitous, they would have to become more discrete: “the true promise of devices connected worldwide is to free individuals, using tools to solve issues in the things that surround us.”

The first true IoT experiment was conducted in the mid-seventies by the Department of Computer Science at Carnegie-Mellon University, where researchers equipped an automatic distributor with sensors and connected it to the Internet to remotely determine how many bottles were present in the machine and whether they were cold or not.

Since then, the development of Radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags, the decommissioning of the GPS – Global Positioning System and the commercialisation of the first geo-localisation, navigation and telematics insurance services, together with the development of new, more powerful bandwidth standards and the increased sophistication of mobile devices and sensors, have allowed the world to grow increasingly interconnected.

The Internet of Everything

Today, our devices and wearables are interconnected in real-time, providing and collecting information from a wide range of sensors installed in both fixed and mobile infrastructure and devices. The IoT interconnects billions of devices into a single network and produces big data that allows researchers to improve many facets of our everyday lives. Indeed, many argue that the IoT should really be referred to as the Internet of Everything.

The IoT now includes domotics services in our houses and offices, telematics insurance products, including remote health-monitoring and geo-location for emergency services, and a vast range of eco-sustainable tools, such as smart agriculture. Moreover, our cities have been transformed into intelligent infrastructure with intercommunicating parking lots, traffic lights and illumination systems that share information and automatically adjust to real-time conditions.

The Future

According to Gartner, there currently are over 5 billion devices connected to the Internet, not including computers. And this figure is forecast to rise to 20 billion by 2020. “Research and Markets” posits that this increase will drive the reference market value from today’s US$157 billion to US$661 billion in just five years’ time.

As Marc Weiser, the father of ubiquitous computing, predicted: “next comes ubiquitous computing, or the age of calm technology, when technology recedes into the background of our lives.”

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