World Economic Forum

Future of the Connected World

The State of the Connected World report sets out the global risks and Future of the Connected World roadmap sets out a plan for action.

Future of the Connected World Roadmap, April 2021

State of the Connected World, 2020 Edition

Realizing the full benefits of the internet of things starts with a thorough understanding of both challenges and opportunities

Spurred by continued technological advancement, the world today is more connected than ever. This presents a tremendous opportunity to build a more sustainable and prosperous future for all, but it also introduces new risks and governance challenges in areas such as security, privacy and the fair distribution of benefits.

The global COVID-19 pandemic has made this abundantly clear. COVID-19 has highlighted the essential role the internet of things (IoT) has come to play in our lives. IoT applications such as connected thermal cameras, contact tracing devices and health-monitoring wearables are providing critical data needed to help fight the disease while temperature sensors and parcel tracking will help ensure that sensitive COVID-19 vaccines are distributed safely. Yet the use of IoT in fighting the pandemic has also shed light on concerns about its security, privacy, interoperability and equity.

This inaugural report on the state of the connected world was initiated by the World Economic Forum and the Council on the Connected World, which consists of key stakeholders from the global IoT industry in the public and private sectors and civil society. It aims to take a comprehensive look at the most pressing opportunities and challenges facing the IoT ecosystem based on extensive multistakeholder input and discussions. Our research makes clear that we are at a pivotal moment, when the development, use and governance of these technologies is rapidly changing and evolving.

Experts see a number of governance gaps for IoT

A survey of nearly 400 IoT experts indicate that two areas in particular – safety and security, and privacy and trust – likely pose the greatest levels of risk. While that may not be surprising, respondents also believe that industry and governments are working hard to respond to privacy and security risks and that governance measures are gaining traction.

On the other hand, the research findings indicated that the industry is lagging in establishing governance measures to address societal benefit and equity. In general, IoT experts think that IoT could exacerbate the “digital divide” between digitally savvy, connected populations and those without digital access.

The report investigates these findings (and others) in greater depth.

The Pandemic Effect: COVID-19, the Great Reset and the connected world

COVID-19 has radically transformed the role of IoT in just a few months. Connected devices have been useful tools for monitoring and containing the disease around the world, and are expected to play a critical role in safely distributing future vaccines. But the situation has also highlighted the need to strike a proper balance between the public interest in protecting health in the face of future pandemics and the need to ensure the full range of human rights, such as protecting freedom of expression, association and movement. As societies emerge from the COVID-19 crisis, a unique window of opportunity has opened to reimagine our relationship with IoT, realize new opportunities for growth and unlock a safer and more inclusive use of the technology.

The economic impacts of COVID-19 are also shaking up the IoT ecosystem. Business that were prioritizing IoT investment to monitor machine health are now using connected devices monitor and protect human health, while also investing in remote working capabilities and automation. The IoT market is expected to grow even faster once the world enters a new post-COVID-19 business environment, thanks to the release of pent-up demand and new investment in technology to minimize impacts from future disruptions.

Conclusion: Charting a path to a brighter connected future


In response to the findings of this report, the World Economic Forum in partnership with the Global IoT Council has developed a Global Action Plan that aims to encourage collective action on the most pressing challenges the connected world currently faces. IoT is already an indispensable part of our daily lives and fundamental infrastructure. As it grows in extent and capabilities, we must act if we want to realize the full potential of IoT.

The Global Action Plan is structured around a set of high-level actions, which are tied to related initiatives and commitments, learn more about those initiatives here.

The World Economic Forum in partnership with the Council on the Connected World intends to provide regular updates on the progress of the Global Action Plan. An updated and expanded version of this report will be published in two years in order to track progress of the Global Action Plan and stay abreast of emerging governance gaps.

"As the internet of things becomes a part of our daily lives, it is essential that we build upon the last three decades of learning from the World Wide Web, ensuring that these technologies create a digital future that is safe and empowering for everyone."

—Adrian Lovett, President & CEO, World Wide Web Foundation

“As we become increasingly reliant on connected devices throughout our daily lives, privacy and security are of paramount importance. They will be crucial to the safe and secure digital transformation of industries throughout the next decade"

—Cristiano Amon, President, Qualcomm Incorporated