If you’re hearing lots of lively debate about the ubiquitous Internet of Things – and you probably will be soon if you haven’t already – then it’s time to get involved.
But where to start? What is it? What does it mean? And what are the issues and potential problems with it? You’re in the right place. We’ll try and keep it brief. Let’s begin.
What is the Internet of Things?
The Internet of Things, or IoT for short, is a vision of the future, and many assert that it has already begun, and is already here. It refers to a future world where practically everything is connected to everything else via a large, complex network of computers and sensors. Yes, for all intents and purposes, this means the Internet.
This means that everything we see and use in our lives will be able to both receive information and to send information. It will be “connected”, “plugged in”. A part of the Matrix, if you will. This allows any connected device to have access to the epic wealth of information flowing through the Internet, and capitalise on information that is relevant to it.
To explain this a little better, let’s take an example. An umbrella. An umbrella that is connected to The Internet of Things could send information, i.e. its location. The information it receives back could be the weather forecast for that day. The umbrella – a “smart-umbrella” if you will, could act upon that information, by vibrating if rain is forecast in the area, reminding its user not to forget it when leaving the house.
This is a typical example, but the potential of the Internet of Things runs deeper than vibrating umbrellas. More and more devices come with sensors for recording the information around them. This leads to more data entering the Internet, which can be analysed and converted into intelligence, and this intelligence can be acted upon to make our lives very efficient and convenient indeed. Imagine the concrete used to make a bridge containing sensors that tell a computer if stress fractures appear and when the bridge needs repairs, or thousands of sensors that analyse traffic flow that can divert smartcars and control traffic lights for optimal performance…
But in a reality where everything is connected, there are potential problems. For the most part, this means security, privacy and the inherent risks of relying so heavily on technology working correctly.
With the advent of social media, smartphones, smartTVs and a whole host of other types of connected software, our privacy is already being eroded. We share – intentionally or unintentionally – lots of information about us, more so than ever before. And this can be a really big problem.
The scandals involving Edward Snowden and the NSA demonstrated that we’re not so willing to hand over the details of our private lives, but in an increasingly connected world, more and more information about us is going to become available with just a few clicks of a mouse.
A world full of sensors, video cameras and microphones all connected together presents huge ramifications for privacy.
The Internet security industry has historically been more reactive than it has been pre-emptive. Internet security is the result of hackers, not an anticipatory measure to keep hackers at bay. With everything connected to cyberspace, it is inevitable that there will be many cyber-intrusions to come. It seems that we have a high-profile cyber-crime case in the news almost every week.
And with more of our lives, our data and our worlds finding their homes in the digital lands, it is feasible that these intrusions will become more dangerous. Having your Facebook account or even your online banking account compromised is bad enough, but what about having your car compromised as you drive it? Or your medical device?
How much would you trust the people who develop the things you use that they indeed “hacker-proof” when all we see in the technology section of the paper is stories about hacking scandals?
Rise of the machines?
And for those who really want to envision a more distant future, many high-profile scientists concede that the potential for true artificial intelligence is not only possible, but potentially dangerous. In a world where we rely so much on technology, can we really ever believe that the machines won’t rise up against us?
So where are we? We’re embarking on a journey where more and more things are able to connect to the Internet, slowly but surely fulfilling the vision of the Internet of Things. No one knows how far it will go and what obstacles, challenges and opportunities it will present in the future.
But what we do know is that many industry experts are as wary as they are excited. The future is uncertain, and now living “off the grid” is practically impossible, we’re all coming along for the ride whether we like it or not.