Google has just announced that it is buying a company that manufactures high-altitude solar drones capable of flying for years and designed to beam down wireless signals.

The idea is that the drones will help to connect people in poorer parts of the world and provide a stimulus for economic growth.

It’s where science fiction meets science fact, with enormous implications for all of us, not least in the ways that new data streams are collected, analyzed and stored.

In a way, it’s a marketing dream: a connected and inter-connected world in which big data streams just get bigger, allowing for marketing messages to become ever more precise.

A United Nations report released at the end of last year suggests that some 40% of the world’s population is now online, with mobile broadband the key driver of the global information and communication technology (ICT) market.  In 1995, it was less than 1%.

The International Telecommunication Union report also estimated that by the end of last year, there would be some 6.8 billion mobile-cellular subscriptions – almost as many as there are people on the planet.

IHS Inc in the USA estimates that there will be more than eight billion internet-connected video devices by 2017 – 1.1 devices for every global citizen, and virtually double the figure in 2013.

Cisco believes that the number of connected devices will reach 50 billion by 2020, with much of the growth coming towards the end of the decade.  That’s several times the world’s population.

The reason for the projected upswing isn’t just down to solar drones finally connecting the First and Third Worlds, but the burgeoning Internet of Things (IoT).

At the moment, we’re mostly connected to the internet via computer or smartphone.  But the Internet of Things takes connectivity further, allowing us to control our world in new and interactive ways.

Forget about Doctor Dolittle talking to the animals.  Pretty soon we’ll be talking to our refrigerator, oven and central heating system, telling them when to come on and what to order from the online supermarket.

In many ways, those technologies already exist so it’s just a case of embedding connectivity into new generations of gadgets.  The size of the market is immense, as a number of economic impact reports make clear:

Cisco estimates that between 2013 and 2022, $14.4 trillion of value (net profit) will be “up for grabs” for enterprises globally.  “We estimate the potential economic impact of the Internet of Things to be $2.7 trillion to $6.2 trillion per year by 2025.”

Gartner says that “The Internet of Things will include 26 billion units installed by 2020. IoT product and service suppliers will generate incremental revenue exceeding $300 billion, mostly in services, in 2020.  It will result in $1.9 trillion in global economic value-add through sales into diverse end markets.”

In many ways the Internet of Things is already with us.  For example, internet advertising already makes use of bits of personal data to send us personalized messages.  As data mining and profiling becomes more accurate, combined with the geo-locational functionality of our smartphones, the ethical dilemmas begin to pile up.

A report on the ethics of the IoT by Delft University of Technology says that “when boundaries between public and private spaces get blurred, and are invisible, users would feel a sense of unease: they do not know what information they actually share with whom.

“Many of the developments that are about to come will reshape parts of our society and change the way we interact and make use of technology. In that context, a debate on the future values of living is necessary.”

A paper published by The Internet of Things Council goes further.  “While in many ways we may imagine the advent of the Internet of Things not only as the first major evolutionary step in the existence of the internet, we also may conceive of it as a step in the evolution of our species.”

Another paper for the Council makes clear that IoT “applications can be a great plus for users, helping them save energy, enhance comfort, get better healthcare and increased independence. In short it could mean happier, healthier lives. But those sensors also collect huge amounts of data, which brings ethical challenges—particularly when it comes to privacy and identity.”

How the Internet of Things develops is an ethical issue for all of us, whether personally or as businesses: we may make use of the technologies to effect business or personal benefits, but how do you prevent your fridge talking to your insurance company?

Ethical dilemmas aside, the potential for manufacturers and the marketing industry is staggeringly large.  The Internet of Things may seem like an abstract concept.  It is, however, a near-reality, even if it takes a drone to deliver it.