The idea behind the Internet of Things (IoT) is simple, use the internet as a communications network and enable devices to talk to each other, to applications and ultimately to us.
To give a really simple example that already exists, in fact I have one installed in my house, a home heating system that includes a thermostat and an app that lets me schedule temperature changed by date and time. It cost an extra hundred euros, but the savings due to scheduling lower temperatures at night and on holiday will pay for that.
IoT has tremendous potential to simplify our homes, cities, work environments, transport systems, and healthcare. We’re well on the path towards the IoT, many companies are creating connected devices and Intel has stated that we’ll all have 7 connected devices by 2020.
Most people already have multiple devices that are connected to the internet; phones, laptops, e-readers, computers, TVs. Coming soon to your home are connected devices such as heating, fridges, lighting, sound systems, and home security. Gartner estimates that by 2022 we’ll have more than 500 devices in our homes, although they don’t provide a list.
IoT goes beyond our front door, the healthcare industry is looking at connected devices to support patient care in hospitals and live-at-home independence for people with disabilities and the elderly. For those without known health issues wearable devices monitor your activity and fitness each day.
On a large scale cities are looking at smart ways to use limited resources, including space, more effectively. Monitoring traffic, pollution, rainfall, foot traffic, waste disposal can help a city provide better services and save money. A very simple example; lighting a city can be revolutionised by knowing how city space is used, and the lights themselves can be monitored and maintained based on information rather than inefficient repeated inspections.
What’s the catch?
Masses of opportunities, but what’s the catch? There are concerns around security, privacy, and some specific ethical concerns.
If your connected device is critical then it needs to be secure, hackers have already tested a number of devices and found that the security is lacking. In one alarming case researchers hacked a pacemaker, the pacemaker was in a mannequin, but if it had been in a person that would have amounted to a death sentence. Some guidelines have already been created to protect yourself against IoT risks.
If our homes have hundreds of connected devices how can we know which data is provided? Many of the IoT devices don’t allow you to discover that. There are existing data protection laws in place that companies must follow, but when each “thing” in your portfolio of IoT is transmitting data about one aspect of your life that is a massive amount of data.
Driverless cars, potentially part of the IoT pose a very specific ethical challenge; how should they be programmed when the choice is between harming a passenger vs harming a pedestrian? I don’t know either – and the dilemma is likely to push us towards smart assisted drivers rather than fully driverless cars in the short term.
I’m excited by much of this development, but if devices remain discrete and unconnected the number of control apps I have on my phone will become unmanageable, this is starting to be addressed with some platform systems for smart homes. I can’t help wondering what I will do with all this new information, and whether it will really give me new insights.