Computers, at least computers in the traditional sense, are no longer the fastest growing portions of the Internet.Everything it seems is connected. The band you wear on your wrist uploads your activity data, and can share that information with others on your team. Traffic maps we call up on our phones are generated by analyzing the travel speed of thousands of GPS-enabled devices along our chosen route. Networked thermostats and heating systems are controllable through our phone from anywhere in the world. NetFlix streaming is the single largest consumer of bandwidth. And of course this is all in addition to those tens of thousands of webcams in cities across the globe that we can call up at any time.
Much of what is covered in the media are either consumer products or business applications. Home automation. GPS-enabled guides for restaurants and gas stations. Flight information and online shopping. On the business side, manufacturers are using tiny networked sensors to carefully manage the pressure exerted on delicate parts as they are machined and polished – not applying an average part, mind you, controlling the pressure on each individual part. Real-time information from networked equipment can monitor performance and anticipate required preventative maintenance. GPS-enabled tracking within packages goes beyond the traditional bar scan at each depot to track in real-time the location of a given package.
But what does this all mean for nonprofits? Apparently a lot, according to the comments we’ve received in our research, and much of it indirect application and benefits. Some ideas that come from those comments:
- The internet of things will mean more data for analysis that can be leverage for social good
- It means more visibility. So we will have more data and can make real time changes based on that data.
- Consumer and business devices can be re-purposed to contribute to nonprofit missions. The same device that attaches to a runner’s shoe to track a run and measure impact can be used to locate dementia patients who wander off and determine if the person has fallen.
- The automated cars integrated with the city transportation system will mean more efficient transportation. And it means travelers can get help more quickly when they break down.
- It means less data collecting and more analysis and change driven activity which is sometimes the harder part of the job. But as everyone has access to rich data, previous efforts that could only be moved forward via a nonprofit will be replaced by social movements. The role of the nonprofit may change.
There are also concerns about privacy and confidentiality. The same systems that enable health advocacy organizations to lobby for services and support can also reveal identities of patients with socially sensitive conditions such as AIDS. The same networked devices that enable us to navigate a route through busy traffic also can leaves a trail of where we’ve been and possibly who we have seen along the way.