From Thermostats To Prison Security, More Things Going Online

Carlos Watson, co-founder of the online magazine Ozy.com, talks with NPR's Kelly McEvers about how companies are using connected, smart devices to plug into the "Internet of Things."

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

If you're just joining us, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Kelly McEvers. The Internet of things, it's one of those phrases that once you hear it, it might stick in your head. And this is what you need to know. Soon, the majority of devices that connect to the Internet will not be computers or smart phones but the rest of the stuff we use in our lives - fridges, light bulbs, door locks, bags of lettuce, automatically changing temperature, checking for freshness, turning on or off, locking and unlocking, quietly running our homes and gathering tons of information about how we live. So are you creeped out or ready to let the robots take over? Let's ask Carlos Watson about this. He's the founder of the online magazine Ozy, and he's joining me from his lookout in Mountain View, California. Hey, Carlos.

CARLOS WATSON: Hey, Kelly. How are you?

MCEVERS: Good. This all sounds a little like, you know, 3-D, sci-fi, fantasy. How far away are we from this being real?

WATSON: Well, if you've got a smart phone, which most of us do, it's not that far. And the fact that there are companies like Nest, the makers of those kind of cool smart thermostats, getting bought up for billions of dollars by companies like Google and the fact that we're talking about things like Google glasses or even the kind of so-called wearable computers like Fitbit or Nike Fuel, means that after years of talking about it, it's here.

MCEVERS: OK, so it doesn't just apply to some of those things we're familiar with, what else? What other kind of devices are we talking about?

WATSON: Well, you know, the really interesting thing is that while we're talking about it a lot, Kelly, in terms of consumer facing things, maybe even a bigger market for this, the true trillion-dollar market, may be when businesses try and run their own factories or offices better. So now they're saying, boy, we could manage things like how hot and cold the building is or how smartly our factory runs or even a hospital thinking about managing the beds and how warm the bed is for different patients. So that's even a bigger conversation that's starting to emerge.

MCEVERS: And I'm told there's even applications for prisons. What's that?

WATSON: Indeed. One of our writers this week, Melissa Pandika, wrote about the epidemic in many cases of suicide in prisons - two to three times more suicide in prisons, much more mental illness. And in order to begin to deal with that in a very different way a number of prisons have begun to use sensors, that can sense early leading indicators of depression, whether that's a prisoners breathing, the amount of movement. So you are seeing this idea, the Internet of things - this idea that so many different things are connected to the Internet that they can gather information and try and react smartly, as you're saying, show up in places you might not expect.

MCEVERS: What about the creepy part of this, though - I mean, the privacy and security concerns about all of the data that's being collected.

WATSON: So totally freaking people out. It sounds a lot like big brother in "1984" and George Orwell. How much information do I really want someone to know about how often I sleep or about exactly when I show up at work or about how active I am when I'm working? And am I that comfortable with my boss or, frankly in some cases, Facebook or Google knowing that information? The other piece that you're hearing a lot of concern about, security. How much am I at risk if someone hacks that information? If everything is connected to the Internet, how vulnerable is not just your email, but health devices, your bank account, all sorts of other things?

MCEVERS: Carlos Watson is the co-founder of the online magazine Ozy. He's based in Silicon Valley. Carlos, thanks so much.

WATSON: Hey, really good to be with you. Have a great weekend.

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