It's that time of year again, when the world's technology companies, big and small, convene in Las Vegas for the annual Consumer Electronics Show. CES 2014 is well underway, with weird and wonderful announcements having been made already, like fridges that can tell you when to buy milk or watches that help you exercise more. Here, we take a look at the future of the Internet of Things and how businesses can utilise big data.

By Zafar Jamati

Science fiction has always had a knack for predicting the future. Isaac Asimov's The Naked Sun (1957) predicted the Internet, William Gibson's Neuromancer (1984) predicted modern database infrastructures and Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1979) predicted Wikipedia.

It's no coincidence that we find sci-fi and technology enthusiasts are gathering in LA to discover what the future holds. So what can we expect in the year ahead? Here's a round-up of the big themes at this year's event:

Smart devices
Although smart devices have been around for years, 2014 sees the first foray of 'smart' into less traditional environments. LG kicked things off with an announcement of their new smart TV, which utilises WebOS. After acquiring it during the fire sale of HP's tablet business, LG has redeveloped the mobile OS into a usable interface, seamlessly meshing together traditional TV and online content.

Panasonic has also introduced a 'Life+Screen' system in a TV, which instantly suggests content from Youtube, Netflix and cable.

In a less traditional vein, LG have announced smart appliances. These include a fridge that will notify the user to pick up groceries that are running low and a washing machine, air conditioning unit and vacuum cleaner that can be remotely instructed to start and stop as required.

Gimmicky or ahead of their time?
Other slightly gimmicky devices include bendy screen TVs and smartphones, as well as home food 3D printing units and an in-car infotainment system that can order pizza. Whilst only incremental moves, some may critique the usefulness of such devices and the cost effectiveness of corporate budgets during this time of economic instability.

Some innovations however, seem more promising, even ahead of their time. Although not quite ready yet, self-driving cars are making waves in the field of transport and travel. Ford, Google and now BMW are currently experimenting with sensor laden cars that can navigate the world around them. Google's driverless car has already amassed over half a million road miles in the USA.

Wearable tech
Above all else, the big theme this year has to be wearable technology. Incubated by the crowdsourcing community Kickstarter, the pebble smartwatch paved the way for companies large and small to replicate and develop the niche.

Boasting low voltage e-ink displays, smartwatches, smart-wristbands and even smart-jewellery are being hyped for their ability to interact with our bodies on a whole new level. The watches get notifications from your phone, read SMS and control music via an app, providing a less intrusive way of using your phone. They can even tell the time!

Fitness wristbands developed by Nike and Fitbit, offer dual functionality as fitness monitors and data collection devices. By constantly monitoring heart rate, body temperature, steps taken and even sleep cycles, the bands can generate graphical data on how to improve your diet, quality of sleep and exercise regime to better your health holistically. 

Google glass has already raised controversy by being the 'go everywhere, share anything' glasses. Innovating in the augmented reality sector, the yet to be released glasses not only see everything the user sees, they have the ability to overlay video, pictures and navigation all through simple voice commands.

The implications
Some technologies have been revolutionary whilst others only evolutionary. Whatever consumers take away from this, one thing is certain - there is now more information available about us than ever before.

It may benefit us as individuals in improving our health or making our commute to work easier, but the real benefit is to be reaped by businesses. By having access to an ever increasing and more intimate pool of data, businesses are better positioned to predict consumer behaviour.

The future is transparent. Businesses will know when we wake up, when we need sleep, when we're getting hungry, even before we do. Customer needs will no longer be guesswork but justified in hard evidence.

This raises privacy concerns for the regulation of big data and the ever increasing transparency realised from the Internet of Things. The line between public and personal space is rapidly diminishing and the likelihood of sensitive information being abused is high. And so we come back to the realm of science fiction - the harsh reality is that not even Orwell could have predicted this.

P.S. Thanks to everyone who told us about the font colour in the daily blog email, we've rectified the issue!

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