Ubiquitous computing

Chips with everything

Drastic falls in cost are powering another computer revolution, says Tim Cross

THE INTERNET OF THINGS (IoT) is a clumsy name for a big idea. It holds that, despite all the changes the computer revolution has already wrought, it is only just getting started. The first act, in the aftermath of the second world war, brought computing to governments and big corporations. The second brought it to ordinary people, through desktop PCs, laptops and, most recently, smartphones. The third will bring the benefits—and drawbacks—of computerisation to everything else, as it becomes embedded in all sorts of items that are not themselves computers, from factories and toothbrushes to pacemakers and beehives.

The magic of computers is that they provide in a machine an ability—to calculate, to process information, to decide—that used to be the sole preserve of biological brains. The IoT foresees a world in which this magic becomes ubiquitous. Countless tiny chips will be woven into buildings, cities, clothes and human bodies, all linked by the internet.

Up close, the result will be a steady stream of quotidian benefits. Some will arise from convenience. Microchipped clothes could tell washing machines how to treat them. Smart…