QA | 8 May 2014
You may wonder, where is the Internet going? The answer for many futurologists is the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT). IoT is the concept of joining everything to the internet, and I mean everything.
Our future landscape of connectivity
We have got used to a world where our smartphone collects our email, allows us to book train tickets and a keep on top of our everyday lives. Our desktop and laptop computers allow us to access services and information on an unprecedented scale at the click of a mouse. You may wonder, where is the Internet going? The answer for many futurologists is the 'Internet of Things' (IoT).
IoT is the concept of joining everything to the internet, and I mean everything. People are even considering digestible computers, which will monitor your body from the inside. For the home, we already have bathroom scales that can email your weight and BMI to your healthcare professional as soon as you stand on the scale - yes, Doc, I need to lose weight. There are even wristbands that monitor your level of activity and can encourage you to exercise. You may have recently come across these personal technologies, which are prime examples of the shift to IoT.
So, what's in the future?
The future home will also get more automated. How about the fridge that can contact the supermarket and order replacement items when necessary? Or the heating system that can monitor the house and change the heating as needed, in real-time, in each room?
Another idea, not far away is the Home Control System that will connect with your phone to discover when you are 10 minutes from home, so that it can start heating the house for you and signal the fridge to have a cold one ready. It could also learn your habits and anticipate your next steps, setting the start time for the heating earlier than usual because it saw an early meeting in your diary, all without having to be told to do it.
In this hyper-connected, always-on environment many new things will be possible. The IoT has been waiting to happen, but has needed a range of technologies to mature and get widespread adoption. One of the key technologies is the Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags. These tags allow physical things to be tracked (eg. a food packet leaving the fridge and then entering the dustbin). This allows systems to monitor our real-world actions, in detail. The second technology is ubiquitous connectivity. For the IoT to function it must be where we are, which means no "not spots" or lost Wi-Fi. We are not quite there yet, but it is getting closer.
Clearly this level of connectivity is quite advanced compared to the current internet, and the transition to IPV6 is another important step. This will allow every device to have a globally unique public address, so no matter where you are your device can talk to your infrastructure, which may even be in a 'cloud.'
Managing the risk
All of this new opportunity and rich capability doesn't come without its risks. As we make technology more intimate, the consequences of its failure can be more dramatic and also unavoidable. If we take the body monitor example, what would happen if you altered your diabetic medication based on the readings from a body monitoring system, and it turns out that system had been compromised and the data was wrong? A potentially fatal problem…
The future, as ever, is both frightening and enticing. A clear idea of what you are trying to accomplish is important, and a risk-aware approach is necessary. Managing risk is what we do each day and the technology of the future is no different. We just need to understand the risks and decide what we can live with.
Good luck with your own IoT - I am just going to ask my health system if the kitchen cupboard is authorised to let me have another biscuit.
To keep abreast of understanding the risks, we offer courses in understanding the IoT, IPV6 and a range of technical and security subjects. We can't protect you, but we can prepare you to protect yourself.
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