The Internet of Things - Web 4.0
In 1991 when commercial use of the Internet was first allowed, no one could foresee what the World Wide Web would develop into. In order to explain and understand the future developments of the Internet, we have to take a look at its history and the terms relating to it. These terms are not a revolution of its core definition, but a new way of using the web.
- Web 1.0
The first era of the Internet was all about “owning”. Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web referred to it as a “read-only web”, in which businesses and private users could present themselves and their work by using static websites connected by hyperlinks. This means users could only view these sites but not contribute to them.
- Web 2.0
As social sharing sites like Friendster (2002), Myspace (2003), Facebook (2004) and the general trend of blogging came up, the “read-only web” (if we stick to Berners-Lee’s definition) became the “read-write web” which was (and still is) all about sharing: people interact and collaborate with each other by sharing and commenting on user generated content. The idea of sharing thoughts, events, news and so on has become more present and important with the still increasing use of mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets, people didn't have to be at home to share something.
"Where are we now?" and the Future
At the moment we are still in the Web 2.0 era. We are using the Internet to share things, to contribute to the community and to search for all kinds of information. Now, this search is about to be revolutionized by the next era, Web 3.0.
- Web 3.0, the "read-write-execute web".
The purpose of Web 3.0 is to make the Internet readable by machines and not only humans so that broader searches through simpler interfaces in this “semantic” or “intelligent web”, as it is often referred to, will be possible. Search engines will have much greater access to data and applications will be able to speak to each other directly.
An example: Imagine you want to go to the cinema, see a good action movie and after that you want to have dinner which is also suitable for vegetarians. Normally, you would google each term independently in order to get the desired information. But Web 3.0 would let you type in a whole complex sentence, in this case: “I want to see a good action movie and then dine at a vegetarian restaurant nearby” and present you a single answer instead of multiple searches with multiple results. This is due to the fact that the Web 3.0 browser not only is able to combine the different terms but also understands the meaning behind the information. This semantic aspect, that is what Web 3.0 is all about. The best example of a search engine that tries to fulfill Web 3.0's requirements is Wolframalpha, where you can search terms, questions or mathematical problems and the engine presents you the correct results.
After the web has been made reachable by machines (a process that is believed to end around 2020), now human and machines can interact in symbiosis using Web 4.0, the “symbiotic web".
- Web 4.0, the "read-write-execute-concurrency web".
According to futurist and business strategist Daniel Burrus “ultra-intelligent agents” will be telling you everything about you, your day and the surrounding. Online functionality will migrate into the physical world. That is the era of the Internet of Things.
It has to be said that these two eras don't have to happen one at a time, they are evolving concurrently and benefit from each other's advances. It could even be that the era of Web 4.0 comes before 3.0 because it doesn't necessarily need the semantic web, although it would definitely benefit from it.
The 4 Webs
hyperlinks, static websites
social media, blogging
Wikipedia, Myspace, Facebook
The Internet of Things
The Internet of Things (IoT) is referred to as the next great phase of the Internet, a scenario in which objects and not only people (Web 2.0) or machines (Web 3.0) are connected. These objects could literally be anything from a toaster, to a car, your keys, the washing machine, the lights, groceries, books, the list really is endless.
Every object is assigned an IP address (IPv6, to be more specific, which has increased the number of addresses in such a huge way that according to experts, we could “assign an IPv6 address to every atom on the surface of the earth, and still have enough addresses left to do another 100+ earths.”) and thus is provided with the ability to transfer data over a network. When objects are connected they need to store data about themselves and/or their environment.
That is what RFID (Radio-frequency identification) tags with data that can be changed, updated and locked are for. Imagine you are shopping in a grocery store. With every item in your shopping cart having the RFID tag you no longer have to wait for someone to scan every item individually as your cart gets scanned by a reader that displays the price almost instantly. If we think further ahead, this reader could be connected to a large secure network which sends the information of the amount on your bill to your bank which will deduct it from your account.
According to the American author and founder of Squidoo, Seth Godin, the Internet of Things needs three factors: Ubiquity, Identity and Connection. Ubiquity, because “it is about activity, not just data, and most human activity takes place offline”. It needs identity in order to provide the user with personalized services and it needs connection. The last one is probably the most important of all, because the IoT not only uses things-to-person communication but also thing-to-thing communication concerning the approximately 75 billion devices that, according to Morgan Stanley, will be connected to the Internet of Things by 2020 of which only 1% are connected today. “That's 9.4 devices for every one of the 8 billion people that's expected to be around in seven years”.
One thing that the IoT will definitely revolutionize is search. As every connected thing will be collecting huge amounts of data on a daily basis, it will be nearly impossible for us to use traditional search methods. As technology expert Brian Proffitt puts it, “instead of looking for things in the world, those things will be seeking us out to give us all sorts of information that will help us fix, use or buy them". Because all the things will be connected and equipped with RFID tags, they will be able to send us information based on our personalized profile. So you would no longer have to search for “good movie” and read several reviews to find out if one of the movies suits you, you could just ask in store and would be prompted with the best selection based on your preferences. Or you could see where certain items are located in a grocery store (items you need because your refrigerator sent you the information about its content).
If all the things can be uniquely identified many daily processes would no longer be necessary. You could track stolen items as well the person who stole it, companies and supermarkets would no longer produce huge amounts of waste because they knew what and how much their customers demanded. Doctors could make use of connected heart sensors to improve their patients’ health, connected cars could support a better traffic flow, the impact of the Internet of Things is almost limitless. According to Dan Rowinski, writer for readwrite.com, the key areas could be “infrastructure (buildings and utilities), consumer (cars and homes), health care and businesses (consumer products and retail locations)”.
Challenges and Downsides
The first challenges the IoT will have to face are those concerning industry standards such as wireless connections, telecommunication lines doing the actual connecting and a language that is understandable by all devices and not only by a few belonging to a certain company. In addition to that we will have to focus more on renewable energies in order to provide all of the estimated 75 billion things or machines with electric power.
As no internet system is safe, the IoT will also be facing privacy issues, because personalized search is only possible if the user provides the respective search engine with his personal data. Another severe downside is that for example pacemakers could be tuned remotely, internet-connected cars could be controlled over unsecured Wi-Fi networks and thus making criminal actions more likely.