Today’s internet is intrinsically human focussed. For decades it has been used as a vehicle for allowing humans to share and consume information. But a shift has been occurring over the past decade. You may be reading this "directly" on the Thoughts blog, or more likely it will have been collected by your RSS robot and piped into Google Reader, your email or your FlipPad.

The internet is increasingly being read and processed by machines. In parallel the vision of the intelligent or smart environment that can sense your needs and desires has been seeping into practical reality.

In early 2010 there were for the first time "more connected devices coming online with AT&T and Verizon than new human subscribers" according to Marshall Kirkpatrick at ReadWriteWeb. We are at the cusp of the emergence of an internet of things that empowers computers to perceive the world for themselves and as a result act as agents on our behalf. Several descriptors have been used to describe the technologies that feed into this subject including: ubiquitous computing, ambient intelligence, the disappearing computer, even radio-frequency identification (RFID).

The working definition we use to frame this work is adapted from the European Funded project CASAGRAS 2009 as follows:

"The network infrastructure that links physical and virtual objects through the exploitation of data capture and communications capabilities. This infrastructure includes existing and evolving internet and network developments. It enables specific object identification, sensing and actuating, and connection capability that forms the basis for the development of independent co-operative services and applications. These will be characterised by a high degree of autonomous data capture, event transfer, network connectivity and interoperability.

"As designers and engineers of the built environment, this network infrastructure allows us to create a ‘digital layer’ over the hard infrastructures we have traditionally conceived and provides a canvas for developing the soft infrastructures which can respond and reflect to the realtime use of our designs. There are huge implications here for how we plan and design our buildings and cities. We are putting the user at the centre of that design process but more importantly we will be collecting realtime metrics that reflect that experience whether it be resource use, great places to be or the migration patterns of inhabitants."

There are loads of big problems to solve: the technology for sensing, the architectures for networking, the processing of big data, and the policies and regulations that guide deployment. But these are all interesting problem domains and very relevant to our future designers.