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Do you speak the Internet of Things?

The Internet of Things (IoT) is an increasingly common topic of conversation in the workplace. There are a lot of complexities around the Internet of Things, and if we are expected to understand it and to be understood in the English language, we need to grasp the basics of the terminology so we can get our message through.

"The basic idea of the IOT is that virtually every physical thing in this world can also become a computer that is connected to the Internet" — Professor Dr. Elgar Fleisch

Simply, the Internet of Things is the concept of connecting any device to the Internet, and/or to each other. It can be anything from smartphones, through consumer appliances like an electric toothbrush or a refrigerator, to industrial machinery and control systems – and almost anything else you could think of. So, it’s best to think of the Internet of Things as a huge network of connected things and people. 

Why connect?

There are many examples for what these connections might look like or what the potential value might be. For example, what if your office copier knew when it was running low on ink and automatically ordered a refill?  

What about utilizing a wearable device that tells you when and where you were at your most productive and active, and could also share that information with other devices that you used while working? The list of possibilities could go on and on.

The world of IoT has a lot of technical terminology and vocabulary. Some of these terms are simply “connected” versions of existing ones, such as smart thermostats, smart light bulbs, and smart meters.

virtual or augmented?

However, when it comes to our communication skills, many of us are struggling to understand what is being talked about in discussions that go deeper than just name-checking devices and services. There are words that regularly appear in reports about the Internet of Things, such as:

  • a device (n) a piece of equipment, usually electronic, such as your TV, phone, or maybe even your connected toothbrush

  • augmented (or virtual) reality (n): the use of a device, such as a headset or smartphone, to supply extra information about your environment

  • M2M (adj, n): “machine-to-machine” – automatic communication between two devices without human intervention

  • RFID tag (n): radio frequency identification – small, inexpensive tags that can be monitored and tracked for e.g. automatic stock control

  • smart device (n): a device that can connect to and communicate with other devices and systems

  • wearables (n): smart devices that can be worn on the body, such as a smartwatch or fitness tracker



In more specialized articles or discussions, you might hear the following English langauge terms:

  • to embed (v) for example, your connected toothbrush has sensors, software or electronic equipment embedded (fixed firmly and deeply) within it

  • to aggregate (v) your connected toothbrush will collect data on your brushing habits such as how often you brush, for how long, how hard you press, etc. and send it to the manufacturer. They will then aggregate (bring together; collect into one sum, mass, or body) the data for product development or marketing purposes

  • to collaborate (v) your connected toothbrush will collaborate (to work, one with another; cooperate) with your other hygiene products, such as your dental floss, to create an analysis of your dental needs

  • to deploy (v) if your connected toothbrush senses that you have food stuck between your teeth, it will deploy (to spread out strategically) in-built floss to remove it

The connected toothbrush or fridge are well-known examples of the potential real-world applications of the IoT. There are already systems that can tell when you are close to home and will turn on the lights and heating in your house. Your lights might even know that you prefer dim, warm colors in the evening and set themselves appropriately.

the industrial internet

In the business world, the “Industrial Internet” has the potential to allow remote monitoring and control of processes and systems, smart devices that know when they need maintenance and can even tell you to order replacement parts, and a bewildering range of other possibilities.

And of course, everyone wants to take advantage of “big data” – smart devices can record and store vast amounts of data about themselves and their environment

The futurologists would have us believe that the Internet of Things will encompass our lives: that it will be pervasive and ubiquitous. The Internet of Things has even led to some new words being created to help us describe it. Take spime, for example: it’s a mixture of the words space and time coined by the author Bruce Sterling.

Who knows what the future will bring to our language, and our toothbrushes!



Communication English Language Internet of Things Terminology

Brian McMillan

Brian McMillan

Brian McMillan has worked as a native English (American) trainer for business, mass media and government professionals since coming to Finland over 11 years ago. Previously he worked within the newspaper, radio and television industries in the United States as a writer, publisher and newscaster. Email: brian.mcmillan@aacglobal.com

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