Paper - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

Technology Factsheet: Internet of Things

  • Nathaniel Kim
  • Insup Lee
  • Javier Zazo
| June 2019

Executive Summary

The Internet of Things (IoT) generally refers to a network of smart devices that can continuously sense or interact with their environment. These devices are able to communicate and respond to information that they gather, enabling the system to facilitate activities, streamline processes, and inform decision-making. IoT products have become more popular and visible in today’s society, in the form of applications such as consumer smart home electronics, transportation systems, or warehouse automation. Their usage will only continue to grow; 500 billion devices are expected to be connected to the Internet by 2030, with each device collecting data, interacting with the environment, and communicating over a network. This foreseeable outcome should encourage developers and users alike to pursue better awareness of and preparedness for the potential ways in which the public interest could be threatened. Important questions about accountability and transparency that address security and privacy issues must be included in policy conversations. This report offers a brief overview of the technology and its impact on public purpose.


What is the Internet of Things?

There is no single, universally accepted definition for the Internet of Things (IoT), but the term generally refers to the ever-increasing connectedness of everyday objects that can sense and interact with one another and with their environment. After surveying various definitions used by industry and interest groups in 2015, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) proposed the simple definition of a “network that connects uniquely identifiable ‘Things’ to the Internet,” where the “Things” are devices that can sense and interact according to their hardware and software capabilities. 

A draft report by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) described IoT as consisting of two foundational concepts, which can be combined to derive a definition: 

“Components (some of which may have sensors and actuators that allow them to interact with the physical world) that are connected by a network providing the potential for a many-to-many relationship between components.”

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For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation:

Nathaniel Kim, Insup Lee, Javier Zazo. Ed. Bogdan Belei. “Technology Factsheet Series: Internet of Things” Paper, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, June 2019.

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