How the world will change as computers spread into everyday objects

The Economist ponders on how the “Internet of Things” will fundamentally change the relationship between consumers and producers

On August 29th, as Hurricane Dorian tracked towards America’s east coast, Elon Musk, the boss of Tesla, an electric-car maker, announced that some of his customers in the storm’s path would find that their cars had suddenly developed the ability to drive farther on a single battery charge. Like many modern vehicles, Mr Musk’s products are best thought of as internet-connected computers on wheels. The cheaper models in Tesla’s line-up have parts of their batteries disabled by the car’s software in order to limit their range. At the tap of a keyboard in Palo Alto, the firm was able to remove those restrictions and give drivers temporary access to the full power of their batteries.

Mr Musk’s computerised cars are just one example of a much broader trend. As computers and connectivity become cheaper, it makes sense to bake them into more and more things that are not, in themselves, computers—from nappies and coffee machines to cows and factory robots—creating an “internet of things”, or iot (see Technology Quarterly). It is a slow revolution that has been gathering pace for years, as computers have found their way into cars, telephones and televisions. But the transformation is about to go into overdrive. One forecast is that by 2035 the world will have a trillion connected computers, built into everything from food packaging to bridges and clothes.