Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Keynote Remarks at Global City Teams Challenge Expo

Welcome again, everyone. And I hope that you are really enjoying this groundbreaking expo. We are here to participate in the culmination of the Global City Teams Challenge.

As I walked around the exhibits this morning, it became clear that this event is far more of a beginning than it is an ending. We're actually here to celebrate the advent of the next generation of the Internet, an innovative expansion of its capabilities—and of our own.

When the current Internet was created, it allowed us to connect people to people in revolutionary ways. The new and improved Internet—which some refer to as the Internet of Things (IoT)—has the potential to do far, far more.

It will connect us with the machines that keep our society running. It will connect us with information from brand new sources, revealing new and more efficient ways to manage our homes, our factories, and our lives. And in the process, it will require new ways to protect our privacy and our IT networks—more reliably and more transparently.

We are going to see changes everywhere in our society. Some will be obvious and eye-catching—like cars on the highway without drivers. Others will be more subtle, like smart thermostats in our homes and public lighting systems that grow brighter as pedestrians approach.

Why do we need to link our streetlights and thermostats to the Internet? In part, because life in the city, which has always been fast-paced, gets more complex every day. Because our cities need to operate in ways that minimize use of scarce resources, maximize value for taxpayers, and protect the environment. And lastly, because these wants will quickly become needs as more of us are living an urban life. Remember when a smart phone was an option—a luxury and not a necessity? Our lives are changing in a blur right before our eyes.

The United Nations predicts that more than 84 percent of the world's population will be living in urban areas by the year 2050. That's up from 30 percent in 1950 and 54 percent over the last year. In short, we are rapidly becoming an urban species. And you are in a room with people who are making sure the urban community of the future is serving its population.

The Internet of Things is a tool to make that happen. It is part of the vision of a technological future in which people can focus on tasks they are good at while allowing machines to do things that that we don't do nearly as well—like finding patterns in data or methodically doing repetitive tasks.

The teams represented here today—more than 60 of them from more than 50 cities, in fact—are collaborations between city planners and innovators who have come together to solve problems in real-world communities.

For example, here are just three of the many projects you can learn about today.

Chicago will soon have a 500-node sensor network, essentially a "Fitbit for the City," to improve air quality, reduce noise pollution, and improve traffic flow.

A senior living facility in Montgomery County, Maryland (where I live), has deployed sensors that not only detect hazards such as toxic gases and water contaminants, but also provide readouts from devices such as heart monitors and oxygen machines.

And Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Atlanta are installing sensor networks in city water systems to detect leaks. Above ground, these cities are adding smart lighting and video systems that will help save energy and manage traffic.

Along with these new capabilities, the Internet of Things will bring great economic opportunities. Experts predict that the market for connected devices by 2023 could total between 9 and 19 trillion dollars. And how many of these devices will there be? Anywhere between 26 billion and 212 billion, depending on who you ask.

To put these statistics into perspective, it is predicted that within just a couple of years, the market for IoT devices will surpass the smart phone, PC, and tablet markets combined.

Driverless cars, smart energy meters, and networked light bulbs, connecting billions of devices in a meaningful way, requires that they all work together. To make that happen, you need standards. This is where my agency, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), comes in.

NIST's mission, as I mentioned at the opening of the Expo, is to advance innovation and improve our quality of life through measurements, standards, and technology.

We have a very broad and world-class laboratory-based intramural scientific research program. But another way we accomplish our mission is by convening experts and stakeholders, in the U.S. and internationally, in emerging technology areas like the IoT.

As a non-regulatory agency, we don't make rules. But we do bring the people together who need to talk to each other before useful standards, specifications, or guidelines can be proposed or agreed upon.

And as a non-partisan agency, we are not on the side of any particular company, industry, or other stakeholder in the marketplace. We are on the side of a level playing field.

We help ensure that the standards needed to develop and then measure the performance of these new technologies are based on the sound principles of science.

Many of you here today work in technology development or in city planning. You're trying to use a new tool to improve our world, and you're in a great position right now. Some of us remember a time just 25 years ago that was very similar.

At that time, people were talking about the opportunities for a new technology—something called the World Wide Web. NIST was part of the game back then as well, and assisted with the development of a cornerstone of our Web usage—the search engine.

In order to stimulate research in information retrieval, NIST launched the Text Retrieval Conference (TREC) in 1992. TREC used human judges to classify whether or not particular documents were relevant to a set of queries. This data helped researchers improve their search algorithms, and a survey indicated that searches in 2009 were more than twice as fast as in 1999, with about a third of this improvement coming directly from TREC's activities.

Just think of how far Google and other search engines have come in the past decade, and you can see why NIST's work helps our marketplace improve. Efficient markets are good markets, creating lower prices and more options for everyone.

I started at NIST as a bench chemist more than four decades ago. So I tend to think in chemistry-related metaphors. In a chemistry laboratory, if you want something new to happen, you carefully research which molecules work well together, which ones can work as catalysts, which ones will gladly give up a few electrons to others. Then you create a safe environment for them to bump into each other watch what happens. The results can be surprising and powerful.

My goal for all of us today is similar. I challenge you to use the rest of the day to interact, to talk to each other, and get some surprising and productive new reactions going.

Together through this Expo and many follow-on activities, we can pave the way for an Internet of Things that grows the economy and improves the urban landscape—the quality of life—for all of the world's citizens.

Thank you.

Created June 2, 2015, Updated October 1, 2016