I am used to the idea that there is an 'internet' of people (email, blogs, twitter, social media, phones, mail) and an 'internet' of data (WWW, W3C Linked Data/RDF, wikipedia, Atom feeds, HTML, ATM machines, etc), but an EU discussion paper talks about an Internet of Things.
One major next step in this development is to progressively evolve from a network of interconnected computers to a network of interconnected objects, from books to cars, from electrical appliances to food, and thus create an 'Internet of things' (IoT). These objects will sometimes have their own Internet Protocol addresses, be embedded in complex systems and use sensors to obtain information from their environment (e.g. food products that record the temperature along the supply chain) and/or use actuators to interact with it (e.g. air conditioning valves that react to the presence of people).
...it should not be seen as a mere extension of today's Internet but rather as a number of new independent systems that operate with their own infrastructures (and partly rely on existing Internet infrastructures).
I suppose leading the way in non-Internet internets are the Smart Grid systems for power systems, and possibly one-way systems like data transmission over TV. Presumably, however, balkanized Internets for Things will increasingly just be tunneled over the vanilla Internet.
... By adopting a proactive approach, Europe could play a leading role in shaping how IoT works and reap the associated benefits in terms of economic growth and individual well-being, thus making the Internet of things an Internet of things for people. Failing to do so would mean missing an important opportunity and could place Europe into a position where it is forced to adopt technologies that have not been designed with its core values in mind, such as the protection of privacy and personal data.
(Hat-tip: Ajit Jaokar The Silence of the Chips)