A short definition of the internet of things (IoT) is a collection of small devices connected to the internet. The IoT takes the concept of “internet” a step further, beyond most people’s use cases.

Thus far, the internet’s primary function is communication. The internet has allowed users to be more accessible to and connected with one another. Most people go to the internet to communicate and retrieve information. Users might log in to email or social media accounts, which have the internet running so users can communicate and send pictures to one another. Users ask Google what is going on in the news. Users ask for help for information about a restaurant.

The IoT, now, extends this purpose—connection—to the non-human. The same internet technology that sends packets of information from one IP address to another, allowing humans to gather and send information, can similarly have small devices connected in order to gather and send information.

Let’s look at the way we’ve used things, even before the internet, and how that informs the ways the IoT might be used in the future.