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What Will The Internet of Things Mean for You?
‘It’s the marriage of minds and machines… and our lives will never be the same.’ Economist Marco Annunziata.
The phenomenal growth of internet-connected devices and appliances – the Internet of Things (IoT) – means an exciting wealth of possibilities lies ahead, but it also presents challenges in terms of privacy, security and data management. Here’s what you need to know about the Internet of Things to help keep your family, your home and your devices safe as well as smart.
What’s the big deal?
Most of us have smartphones, and many of us already have smart devices in our homes – things like internet-enabled TVs, fridges, lights bulbs, switches, locks, security cameras and thermostats. A lot of these home devices can be wirelessly connected to a central hub that allows you to control them all remotely from a browser or smartphone. Any device that is internet-enabled presents a potential security risk, but if a smart hub’s security is breached then any device it controls is also vulnerable.
We also have a passion for wearable gadgets like fitness trackers. These gadgets gather, store and transmit often very personal information about ourselves. Things like our location. The route we take to work. What time we get home. These devices are also vulnerable to hackers, meaning our data is too. And our love affair with wearables is intensifying.
As the Internet of Things gets bigger and more and more things are hooked up – including power grids, traffic management systems, offices, hospitals, schools, industrial plants and defence systems – there’s a whole lot of devices and control hubs to keep up and running securely, and a lot of sensitive data to look after.
So just how big is the Internet of Things?
It’s really big – and it’s spreading fast.
Since its beginnings in 2008-2009, the Internet of Things has boomed. Today there are about 14.4 billion things connected to the internet – that’s twice the human population of the planet. Cisco predicts that by 2020 there will be 50.1bn internet-connected devices – 6.6 devices per person. According to an International Data Corporation report, the potential market value of the IoT will reach $7.3 trillion by 2017.
Several companies already offer smart home systems. Next we’re going to see smart communities and cities. Eventually we’re likely to have a worldwide infrastructure of partly or fully autonomous connected ‘things’ that will monitor and control everything from our daily medication dosage to our power and water supplies – a global Internet of Things. And these ‘things’ won’t just be smart; they’ll be predictive, reactive and self-aware.
It’s all about data
Your data. My data. Everyone and everything’s data. Masses of it. Data that you may not even be aware of. Everything that’s part of the IoT – from your clever telly to your intelligent toothbrush – emits a data stream that is collected, stored and transmitted elsewhere for processing.
Much of this data is extremely valuable. It can be combined to provide useful and often predictive information about us and our environments, increase productivity and efficiency, save time and money, help us get healthier and generally make our lives a whole heap easier.
It does have its downside though, which we’ll come to in a minute.
Many people think the IoT is the best thing since sliced bread
The Internet of Things will open up immense opportunity in terms of how we control all areas of our lives – in work, at school, in our leisure time – and our environments. Being able to turn appliances and devices on and off remotely will be really handy and save time, but there are also far-reaching wider benefits to having a network of connected ‘things’:
- There’ll be increased functionality and better accuracy, reliability, efficiency and productivity in industry.
- Our ‘carbon footprint’ will drop a shoe size.
- Technology will become more personalised and customisable.
- We’ll be more aware of privacy issues.
- There’ll be greater accessibility for disabled people.
- We will see huge advances in health care and education.
- Smart transport systems will be more efficient and safer. Smart traffic lights are already commonplace, and Google is just one of several companies working on driverless cars.
Sounds great! What can possibly go wrong?
Unfortunately, quite a lot.
Hand in hand with the many benefits come considerable risks. We risk trading our privacy, security, and the control and ownership of data for convenience. Many of these issues aren’t new, but the IoT compounds the ones we already have.
The more internet-connected products and services we use, the more data is gathered about us and the more we surrender control of our privacy. As well as this, a hyperconnected world exposes people to greater security risk: a hacker could not only more easily access your data, but control physical things in your environment.
European law enforcement agency Europol has warned of targeted attacks on infrastructure and cloud services, data theft, even bodily injury and fatalities.
There have already been plenty of reports of misbehaving Internet of Things devices, from spamming fridges to WiFi password-leaking lightbulbs, foul-mouthed baby monitors, not-so-smart TVs, vulnerable toilets and bins that scan phones of passers-by. Power grids have also been hacked. According to Forbes, Iran is preparing to avenge the Stuxnet attacks that infected the Natanz nuclear facility. Now we’re being warned about the dangers of autonomous cars.
More points to ponder:
- Humans make mistakes. Machines malfunction. The consequences could be disastrous.
- New smart appliances may not be fully protected against online threats. And if they were to be affected, how would you know? If you did know, could you fix them? Most people wouldn’t and couldn’t.
- Wearable sensor-laden devices like smart watches can leak detailed personal data.
- Vital personal and hospital medical devices like blood sugar monitors, pacemakers, defibrillators and insulin pumps can be hacked, with potentially fatal consequences.
- We will have little control over our own data, and decreasing opportunity to ‘opt out’.
- Corporations and consultants stand to make a lot of money out of our data. We don’t.
- Questions arise over who would be held legally responsible for the consequences of a security breach.
How is all this likely to affect me?
The IoT is going to mean profound changes in our lives, but they won’t happen overnight. Technology analyst Gartner believes widespread adoption of the Internet of Things is still some time away due to lack of standardisation among tech companies and concerns over security and privacy.
Google, Apple and Samsung are all beavering away on their various smart home platforms – which could well be voice-controlled. With one of these, wherever you are you’ll be able to use your smartphone to let the cat in, turn on the heating and put the kettle on, ready for your home-coming cuppa.
You’ll be able to monitor your household gas, water and electricity consumption and see exactly what each appliance is using at any time. This will give you more control over your bills.
You’ll need to beef up your home network security to defend your internet-enabled devices and appliances against hackers. (More below.)
Lots of things you do now will probably be done by computers, so you should have more free time. You might finally write that bestseller, take flying lessons, or simply spend more time with the kids.
Your job will probably change. Manual labour and monitoring roles are likely to be computerised, meaning job losses. But a vast number of new jobs will be created to build, maintain and develop the IoT. Your kids will find themselves learning new engineering and technical skills in preparation for all those new jobs.
In our hyperconnected future, you may need to remind yourself occasionally to disconnect, sit still and remember that you’re more than just a data hub.
Your sensor-laden body will tell you when it needs some TLC, so you can more easily manage your health and fitness. You’ll be able to communicate all this to your GP or local hospital immediately if necessary – no more waiting for test results or looking for misplaced patient files. Doctors will be able to perform more and more diagnostic tests and procedures remotely.
Some pretty mind-boggling things are on the horizon. Check out mind-controlled Google Glass and these smart contact lenses for diabetics. The future certainly looks exciting!
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