The Government of Things

The Government of Things

I thought today would be a good time to write about something exciting and hopeful for the future — so let’s talk about the Internet of Things (IoT) and how it’s impacting local government, and how that impact could grow!

In case you’re not familiar, The Internet of Things is “a global infrastructure for the information society, enabling advanced services by interconnecting (physical and virtual) things based on existing and evolving interoperable information and communication technologies.” (That’s not my definition, it’s the UN’s.) More practically, though, the Internet of Things is everything from tiny concepts like Amazon Dash buttons you can’t escape to massive, global-scale ideas like self-driving autos.

I have absolutely no idea why this is the first GIPHY search result for “Internet of Things” but here we are

As with any nascent technology, many of the applications are trivial — but what makes this sort of thing unique is two very disparate reasons that make the potential for applications so vast and rich: first, that it’s an evolutionary concept that can be added to any other technological concept (seriously, though), and second, even though the federal government is committed to funding this category of innovation at a large scale through SBIR grants, it’s available to anyone and everyone through very inexpensive, credit card-sized computers like Arduino and Raspberry Pi.

In a way, this is a sort of physical iteration of the “user-generated content” concept that blew up as social media arrived en masse around 2005 and caused Time Magazine to name You their Person of the Year for 2006 (which I don’t have on my resume, but really should).

So what does this all mean for local government? Certainly, there are already a number of cities in on the concept, but largely the applications they’re exploring revolve around data and how to gather it at a larger scale and a faster pace for things like urban planning. Recently, Louisville, KY’s Information Technology launched a new program to deploy one IoT solution (drones) at the notifications of another IoT solution (ShotSpotter technology).

Now we’re getting somewhere!

But it doesn’t even have to be that ambitious. For $30, you could just as easily load a couple hundred eBooks onto a Raspberry Pi, enable it as a wi-fi hotspot, and give everyone at a shelter a book to read. You could use light and moisture sensors to automate the watering of a patch of flowers on government property. You could program voice-activated door locks. And perhaps the most amazing part of all this is that these are all things people have already done.

In 2015, the industry predicted that the number of IoT applications would quadruple by 2020 (PDF), and it’s on pace to be true. The catch is that it’s people who are creating them. Somewhere in your office could be anyone who has an idea that nobody’s had yet, waiting for the opportunity to make their life, your life, and perhaps your constituents’ lives a little better/easier/more fun.

What will you and your organization do to coax it out of them?