A concept and vision that many industry experts fall firmly on either side of the fence regarding. But what is it, and why is it causing such a stir? And more importantly, should you be worried?
For those who exhibit even a half-hearted attempt at keeping current with the thrilling and ever-evolving world of technology, you’ve most likely heard at some point of the term the “Internet of Things”.
In its most basic sense, the “Internet of Things” (IoT) is exactly what it says on the tin. It refers to a world where almost everything is connected through networks. Not just your computer or mobile, but your desk lamp, your fridge, your pet, your toothbrush. Maybe even you. And thus, everything has the ability to both transmit and receive data through those networks.
It is, of course, a futuristic vision, but certainly one where many will claim that we are heading directly towards already. Long gone are the days where the only gateway to the seemingly endless digital realms of data is through your desktop PC.
Now you can connect via your phone, your tablet, your TV. You can even access data from the Internet through your car, your coffee machine, your watch, even your MP3 player. More and more everyday household devices have the ability to connect to networks and use those networks to transmit or receive information to and from the beyond.
But this is just the early throes of the vision towards the IoT. Imagine a day where everything you see in your house is “plugged in”. You go to leave the house and the umbrella propped behind the coat rack vibrates because it knows that rain is forecast imminently. Or your wristwatch activates, displaying headlines of breaking news in your locale. Imagine your kitchen keeping you up-to-date with all the latest recipes from your favourite chefs and your fridge telling you what ingredients you’ll need to make them that you didn’t have already.
That is certainly a more distant vision of the IoT or at least a futuristic phase of it. A Pew Research Center report suggests that in a decade (by 2025) you’ll be hard pressed to find any device that isn’t connected to the Internet in some way.
IoT certainly has its advocates, with Facebook (naturally) being one of them. When you read about the possibilities of having almost any device being able to receive real-time information from cyberspace and respond accordingly, the possibilities seem as endless as they do exciting. Beneficial in almost immeasurable ways, and continuing the evolution of technology that allows our own little worlds to develop into the well-oiled machines we always dreamt of.
But as exciting as it sounds, IoT has just as many people adamantly opposed to it, and this is largely down to the inherent distrust we [perhaps justly] have for relying too much on modern technology. Particularly from both a security and privacy standpoint.
In terms of security, it may not worry you too much if someone managed to “hack” your umbrella or toothbrush, nor would it be apparent as to why someone would even want to. But what about your car, your diary or even a health device like a pacemaker (viewers of Homeland will recognise the reference.) Then things can take a more sinister turn.
Connecting a device to a network opens up a new way it can be compromised with malicious intent, and Internet security has inherently always been more reactive than it has been pre-emptive. Something that isn’t particularly comforting given that the IoT would have the average consumer relying on it for much more than just safeguarding the information stored on their computers. A futuristic vision of IoT would have it safeguarding our well-being, even our lives.
And then there are the privacy concerns. Given the many privacy controversies such as the recent NSA revelations and many court battles past and present involving Big Data companies like Facebook, consumer trust in these entities with our personal information is at an all-time low. It is unlikely that an “Internet of Things” future reality could really be possible unless we – as a society – are willing to allow the continued erosion of our privacy to continue to what many would say are startlingly worrying levels.
Anything in our house could potentially be used to monitor us. Spy on us. Our most personal information could be made available through a record number of avenues, and the volume of that information about us would be increased dramatically.
Basically, almost every facet of our offline lives would be digitalised, available to anyone with the resources to obtain it.
When we embark on a journey, amongst several different contemplations, on some level we assess risk vs. reward. But in the exciting world of technology, those contemplations are often not afforded to the individual in the way many argue they should be. Everyone is rushing to join the latest trends, and unless some serious life choices await you, no one in the developed world will get left behind. Ideas are rushed through the contemplation stage, developed, packaged, patented and sold.
So will we all have Wi-Fi enabled umbrellas in a few decades time? In the words of Jurassic Park’s Dr. Ian Malcolm –
…your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.
What do you think? Does the “Internet of Things” scare you? Which prevails for you, the risk or the reward? Let us know below.