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We quizzed Steve Goldberg, partner of US venture capital firm Venrock, on everything Internet of Things.

Do consumers really care about The Internet of Things? “Not always.”

That was the answer from Steve Goldberg, partner at Venrock, the venture capitalist firm that has backed companies such as Dollar Shave Club. It might seem surprising that Goldberg, whose job it is to invest in the very companies that are part of this phenomena, would show his reservations. But then again, in a market where the first wifi enabled fridge allowing users to Tweet via touchscreen exists, you might take the time to stop and think.

“There are markets like medicine where the need is there and yet people can’t figure out how to cure diabetes or cancer. The demand is always there, but the technology development isn’t yet. Whereas, with the Internet of Things (IoT), I think that technology development has raced ahead of market demand. Many things are now doable. It’s now just a question of what is needed”.

So, is the Internet of Things just hype?

Well, first of all, he was keen to point out this isn’t a new concept. IoT began as telemetry, then SCADA (Supervisory Control And Data Acqusition), and then people came up with the term “machine to machine”. The idea of combining a processor, a sensor and a communications component has been around for 40 if not 50 years. What is new is that the components have dropped in price and become ubiquitous. The challenge for the tech industry is to work out where it will add most value for its customers.

“Any kind of enterprise or industrial application where more ubiquitous monitoring or management gives you more information to make faster decisions to save money, that’s a no brainer. Smart buildings, knowing where people are in the building, so that you can turn lights on and off, that’s a no brainer. If it relates directly to dollars, then there is never a doubt that an industry or an enterprise will embrace that immediately.”

While skeptical around the more vapid uses of technology development, Goldberg can envisage a world where cities and the movement of people become more efficient sustainable places. Parking meters that you can control from afar, allowing you to stay in that restaurant for the spontaneous extra dessert. Maps that tell you where to park based on real-time data.

“I recently saw a company that’s building very low cost environmental sensors for light pollution and allergy management. You’d wear a sort of radiation badge which would tell you where the least polluted areas of the city is. It would give feedback to the powers that be that they would control traffic or shut down industry at certain times of the day because air is poor.”

And the effects could be global. “If you have a real-time sense of the environment, this kind of technology can affect developing countries too. Whether that’s a patient on an operation table in Africa or students in the Middle East.” Telemedicine, for example, will benefit developing countries most he predicts. “The ability to monitor people remotely and have medical staff make decisions thousands of miles away. That will be a big one”.

But in an ever globalized world, where people and systems are more and more intertwined, is our vulnerability a threat? Is there, as the World Economic Forum called it in 2012, a “dark side” to interconnectivity?

“The security is important. But my sense is that the threat is no greater than the threat posed by ecommerce. If you’re prepared to put your bank card details, your social security, your age, address, and name into cyber space- is there much of a difference? No. People are getting used to it. And we read every day about that information being stolen, abused, and identity theft. We’re already living that. It’s not clear to me that the internet of things is going to be any different. It’s another dimension. A lot of the information that is gathered is just simply useless.”

But this is not simply a matter of information collection. The Internet of Things threatens to invade physical geographical boundaries as well. “True, I guess someone could hack into your home monitoring system or smart home system and knew you weren’t home and could break in. But l I would make the argument that the the old fashioned way of sitting outside your house and trying to break in would be the same thing. It’s not obvious to me that this changes the world anymore than it’s been changed.”

The regulatory environment is behind, but for Goldberg this is inevitable. “Historically, the regulatory environment always trails the technology development. I mean it happened with DNA sequencing and whether you can patent genes.”

Uber is all over the papers because the regular taxis have to pay millions of dollars to drive a taxi in NYC. And then Uber puts these people on the street who have no license at all and yet are competing for the same business. Obviously that’s not fair. But then technology development has enabled these new people and the old guys are now asking for some regulation. And that always happens, it never happens fast enough. But then, hey, welcome to the world.”

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