Should We Name the Internet of Things the 2015 Person of the Year?

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In the future your blender will use emoticons to express its emotions.

In the future your blender will use emoticons to express its emotions.

No. The Internet of Things is not a person, it is a thing — heck it’s not even a thing, it’s a marketing buzzword or, less cynically, a concept. I kind of hate it when writers try to make things that are not people into people of the year. The suggestion is just as absurd as those who want to name a racehorse sportsperson of the year over Serena Williams, which I can’t even deal with. It’s a horse, not a person, and I would bet that if that horse had a choice it wouldn’t be in races. It could be argued that the jockey was the sportsperson of the year, but good luck selling that. So no, the Internet of Things is not the person of the year, as (pretty good) writer, TV host and professional curmudgeon Llewellyn King (and several other tech writers) suggest that it should be. However we shouldn’t ignore the fact that 2015 was certainly a big year for the Internet of Things.

The last few years the Internet of Things was responsible for a huge increase in the production of infographics about the Internet of Things.

The last few years the Internet of Things was responsible for a huge increase in the production of infographics about the Internet of Things.

In case you’re unfamiliar, the Internet of Things is the idea of everything in our lives being connected together and controllable via the internet. The types of products that are typically included in the Internet of Things are products like smart kitchen appliances, smart televisions, smart watches and smart phones. Basically anything that marketing teams can call smart and will connect with other smart devices counts. If that seems vague that’s because there really aren’t many limits to what devices can and cannot be connected anymore. None of these smart devices are really new of course, smartphones have been the default telephone for years now and appliance companies have been introducing connected appliances for several years now. And as technology continues to advance, get cheaper and shrink over the next few years the possibilities of having everything in our homes tied together is only going to increase.

I'm so hungry, but my smart fridge thinks that I've had enough leftover pizza for today.

I’m so hungry, but my smart fridge thinks that I’ve had enough leftover pizza for today.

The benefits of connecting everything together should be obvious, users can control every aspect of our homes from a single device, and they can learn about our habits and start to predict our needs. Imagine being able to be at work and turn your lights on and off, setting the timer on your oven, never needing a grocery list because you always know exactly what products you have in your fridge and even let people into your home remotely via a smartphone. While smart homes that do these types of things have been predicted for well over a decade now, the possibility of it actually being attainable always seemed to be just out of reach. But if the Internet of Things was notable for anything in 2015 it was that this was the year that all of these things finally started to be possible. There are currently devices available on the market that we can all purchase capable of doing all of these things and more.

I'm not sure what that fridge is smoking, but don't eat 15 day old fish.

I’m not sure what that fridge is smoking, but for the love of god don’t eat fifteen day old fish.

So that’s it then, yeah? The future is here and smart homes for everyone? Not quite. It isn’t like there is a single device available that we can purchase and put everything on our homes on the internet. There isn’t even a single language that all of our smart devices can speak to each other with. And therein lies the problem of course, just about every major tech company has designed multiple products capable of connecting with other products, but for the most part they can only talk to things made by the same companies. If you want a smart home, then you’re going to need to pick an ecosystem and stick with it.

So go ahead and make your choice, there are only a few options so it’ll be easy. You have Home Kit, Brillo, Nest, Windows, SmartThings, Wemo, SimpliSafe, Zigbee, PuckleHorse, Wink, Thread and Z-Wave to choose from so it should be an easy decision. That list, by the way, is hardly comprehensive, and I only made one of those up. There really are that many options for connecting devices together, and to the internet. And just to make things even more complicated none of those ecosystems is all-inclusive; many of them will only control a selection of smart devices, while others will only control a handful of functions on those devices and others still will need a universal remote to work at all. You know, because we don’t have enough remotes in our homes. But there is good news: just about all of them can be controlled with your smartphone, because there is nothing more convenient than taking out your phone to adjust your toaster settings.

"Okay Jarvis, open up the toaster option menu. No, not the toaster power-level options, the toaster internet connectivity options."

“Okay Jarvis, open up the toaster option menu. No, not the toaster power-level options, the toaster internet connectivity options. No, I don’t want it to record the Kardashians, I just don’t want burnt toast”

So no, 2015 really is not the year of the Internet of Things, sorry Llewellyn, but not even close. If anything it is simply the year that the manufacturing industry finally realized that the Internet of Things is how the world is going to work in a decade or two and they started to make products that will fit within it. But for those of us at home who are hoping to use our coffee makers to Google the weather, we’re not quite there. Homes will start to enter the Internet of Things slowly, as we replace our current “dumb” appliances and devices with newer, smarter ones. Giving 2015 to the Internet of Things is like that time Obama got a Nobel Peace Prize before he had a chance to do anything, it’s weird and presumptuous. 

So no, to answer the question that no one really asked me, we shouldn’t name the Internet of Things as the Person of the Year for 2015. And not because it isn’t a person, although that is a very valid reason not to do so, but because it’s still kind of a half-baked concept that hasn’t really done much for us yet. Until I can use my smartphone to tell my George Forman Grill to tell my dishwasher to tell my garage opener that I’ll be home in an hour so put the kettle on, let’s stick to praising people for actually doing important things not buzzwords for being buzzed about by people who are paid to make words be buzzed about.

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