The Internet of Things Era Is Here. Is Washington Ready?

When I first walked onto the showroom floor of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) I was simply overwhelmed. From cages filled with flying drones (including one that could fly a human) to long lines of people waiting to try the new Oculus Rift, it was clear that CES represented a glimpse into the future. There were thousands of displays and demonstrations of products, but Samsung's exhibit caught and retained my attention because it featured real world examples of the Internet of Things (IoT).

In the last 42 years the Internet has primarily been used to connect computers, share information, and its resources were accessed via a mouse and a keyboard. It was evident walking through the Samsung exhibit that this was no longer the case. The Internet has become connected to more and more things in our everyday life and we are only beginning to realize the opportunities and challenges that it presents.

The IoT has the ability to better monitor, track, and improve people's health. Wearable technology can send real time information to doctors or it can simply be a tool to beat your friend's step count. For many people, voice commands are fun and useful, but to people with physical disabilities they offer new ways to complete tasks that were previously impossible.

At the same time the IoT presents new policy challenges. What would you do if your car told the insurance company that your driving had become more erratic? Or worse, your refrigerator told your health insurance company that you have more chocolate in it than usual! Our new technologies have the capability to gather mass amounts of data on us and how we live our daily lives. For this very reason the issue of privacy has become central in the debate over the Internet of Things.

To date, Congress has held 3 hearings that specifically focused on the IoT with the first one held just this past February by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation at the requested of a bipartisan group of Senators. The hearing was hosted by Sen. John Thune (R-SD) and Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) and they heard witness statements from Justin Brookman (Center for Democracy & Technology), Michael Abbott (Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers), Douglas Davis (Intel), Lance Donny (OnFarm), and Adam Thierer (Mercatus Center at George Mason University). Two main issues that were discussed included the Internet of Thing's transformative impact on the manufacturing industry and the protection of personal information.

Up to now a total of 54 members of Congress have spoken about the IoT with mentions in 74 press releases, 65 tweets, 33 Facebook posts, and 4 bills on the issue. Also, there is a Congressional Caucus on the Internet of Things chaired by Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-WA1) and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA49) with 20 members which is encouraging.

With 3,600 companies launching 20,000 products that relate to the Internet of Things last week at CES our world is becoming interconnected at an astonishing pace. We need to make sure Washington is ready to address the associated policy challenges.

Dan Coviello contributed to this blog post.