Your Refrigerator Has Become Self-Aware

The next big thing that will rock the Internet is machine to machine connectivity (M2M for short), in other words, machines bypassing people in order to connect to the Internet.

The rise of the machines is upon us—the rise of machine-to-machine connectivity, that is. The next stage of the Internet's development is the "Web of Things." Simply put, this means that the normal, everyday things—appliances, buildings, cars—will be hooked into the web and able to transmit and receive information independently of you. AT&T announced a major partnership with four companies that specialized in M2M application development this week. Meanwhile, Vodaphone and Intel confirmed today that they would jointly develop a kit for companies wanting to implement M2M functionality in their products. 

These announcements have gone largely under the radar in the media, but the significance is huge. Businesses stand to reap massive rewards with this shift to M2M, boosting customer service and profit margins. But for the consumer, the reality is not so black and white. 

On the one hand, the convenience factor is huge: empty pill bottles could communicate with pharmacies for a refill or empty milk cartons could signal for their automatic replacement. Tracking devices on lost pets could ensure their speedy recovery; cars might upload their latest engine diagnostics to the service department in advance of an appointment; billboards could have up-to-the-minute information about gas prices. And the list goes on. 

But the major concern, of course, is privacy. As Facebook's privacy battles have made very clear, mundane information about consumers—what bands you like, what brands of food you eat—is very valuable to marketers. "Forget spam, your biggest worry to come won't be the latest phishing scam," reports Renee Oricchio of "More likely, it will be something like your refrigerator or home alarm system ratting you out to marketing companies." 

Will we have to program every kitchen appliance with as much care as we do our Facebook profiles? That alone would wipe out any advances in productivity such technologies would offer in the first place.

Below, Harvard Law Professor Jonathan Zittrain discusses Facebook's attack on our privacy in his Big Think interview:

'Upstreamism': Your zip code affects your health as much as genetics

Upstreamism advocate Rishi Manchanda calls us to understand health not as a "personal responsibility" but a "common good."

Sponsored by Northwell Health
  • Upstreamism tasks health care professionals to combat unhealthy social and cultural influences that exist outside — or upstream — of medical facilities.
  • Patients from low-income neighborhoods are most at risk of negative health impacts.
  • Thankfully, health care professionals are not alone. Upstreamism is increasingly part of our cultural consciousness.
Keep reading Show less

Cornell engineers create artificial material with 3 key traits of life

An innovation may lead to lifelike self-reproducing and evolving machines.

Shogo Hamada/Cornell University
Surprising Science
  • Scientists at Cornell University devise a material with 3 key traits of life.
  • The goal for the researchers is not to create life but lifelike machines.
  • The researchers were able to program metabolism into the material's DNA.
Keep reading Show less

After death, you’re aware that you’ve died, say scientists

Some evidence attributes a certain neurological phenomenon to a near death experience.

Credit: Petr Kratochvil.
Surprising Science

Time of death is considered when a person has gone into cardiac arrest. This is the cessation of the electrical impulse that drive the heartbeat. As a result, the heart locks up. The moment the heart stops is considered time of death. But does death overtake our mind immediately afterward or does it slowly creep in?

Keep reading Show less
  • A huge segment of America's population — the Baby Boom generation — is aging and will live longer than any American generation in history.
  • The story we read about in the news? Their drain on social services like Social Security and Medicare.
  • But increased longevity is a cause for celebration, says Ashton Applewhite, not doom and gloom.