A model presents a Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch at the IFA consumer electronics fair in Berlin, September 4, 2013.
Fabrizio Bensch / Courtesy Reuters

Since 1969, when the first bit of data was transmitted over what would come to be known as the Internet, that global network has evolved from linking mainframe computers to connecting personal computers and now mobile devices. By 2010, the number of computers on the Internet had surpassed the number of people on earth.

Yet that impressive growth is about to be overshadowed as the things around us start going online as well, part of what is called “the Internet of Things.” Thanks to advances in circuits and software, it is now possible to make a Web server that fits on (or in) a fingertip for $1. When embedded in everyday objects, these small computers can send and receive information via the Internet so that a coffeemaker can turn on when a person gets out of bed and turn off when a cup is loaded into a dishwasher, a stoplight can communicate with

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  • NEIL GERSHENFELD is a Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and directs MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms.
    JP VASSEUR is a Cisco Fellow and Chief Architect of the Internet of Things at Cisco Systems.
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