The Internet of Things is the latest research report by the Pew Research Center to mark the 25th anniversary of the creation of the World Wide Web by Sir Tim Berners-Lee. It includes an analysis of opinions about the likely expansion of the “Internet of Things”, a catchall phrase for the array of devices, appliances, vehicles, wearable material, and sensor-laden parts of the environment that connect to each other and feed data back and forth.
In 2014, a February report from Pew, tied to the Web’s anniversary, looked at the strikingly fast adoption of the Internet. It also looked at the generally positive attitudes users have about its role in their social environment. And in March, the Digital Life in 2025 report issued by Pew, in association with Elon University, looked at the Internet’s future. 1,867 experts and stakeholders responded said the future of the Internet would become so deeply part of the environment that it would become “like electricity”—less visible even as it becomes more important in people’s daily lives.
The experts agree on the technology change that lies ahead, even as they disagree about its ramifications, says the report. Most believe there will be:
Survey respondents expect the Internet of Things to be evident in many places. In summary, the expectations include:
Many people will wear devices that let them connect to the Internet and will give them feedback on their activities, health and fitness. They will also monitor others (their children or employees, for instance) who are also wearing sensors, or moving in and out of places that have sensors
People will be able to control nearly everything remotely, from how their residences are heated and cooled to how often their gardens are watered. Homes will also have sensors that warn about everything from prowlers to broken water pipes.
Embedded devices and smartphone apps will enable more efficient transportation and give readouts on pollution levels. “Smart systems” might deliver electricity and water more efficiently and warn about infrastructure problems.
Goods and services: Factories and supply chains will have sensors and readers that more precisely track materials to speed up and smooth out the manufacture and distribution of goods.
There will be real-time readings from fields, forests, oceans, and cities about pollution levels, soil moisture, and resource extraction that allow for closer monitoring of problems.
Patrick Tucker, author of The Naked Future: What Happens In a World That Anticipates Your Every Move, provides a working description of the Internet of Things, writing: “Here are the easy facts… in 2008, the number of Internet-connected devices first outnumbered the human population, and… have been growing far faster than have we… there were 13 billion Internet-connected devices in 2013, according to Cisco… and there will be 50 billion in 2020… these will include phones, chips, sensors, implants, and devices of which we have not yet conceived.”
Tucker went on to forecast the benefits of all this connected computing: “… one positive effect of ‘ubiquitous computing,’ continues Tucker… will be much faster, more convenient, and lower-cost medical diagnostics… to meet the health care needs of a rapidly aging Baby Boomer generation… the Internet of Things will also improve safety in cities… cars, networked to one another and their environment, will better avoid collisions, coordinate speed… we will all be able to bring much more situational intelligence to bear on the act of planning our day… avoiding delays… and meeting personal goals… we are entering the telemetric age… where we create information in everything that we do… “
The report is one of a series of eight Pew and Elon University analyses this year, in which experts share their expectations about the future of such things as privacy, cybersecurity, and net neutrality. It includes some of the most provocative of the predictions survey respondents made when specifically asked to share their views about the evolution of embedded and wearable computing and the Internet of Things.
Please visit Pew Research here to view related reports about the future of the Internet at