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Are You Ready for the Internet of Everything?

16 Feb 2014 | Posted Under Internet
By Carl Weiss

“Open the pod bay door, Hal.”

Everybody who has ever seen the sci-fi classic 2001 A Space Odyssey remembers the climactic faceoff between Astronaut Dave Poole and HAL the artificially intelligent computer that ran the spacecraft and ultimately tried to do in its crew. What made the scene so riveting was the fact that it was clearly the computer and not the astronaut who had the upper hand.  The reason that I bring up this bit of trivia is due to the fact that when I hear all the talk circulating in the media about the “Internet of Everything,” I am immediately reminded of this pivotal scene where a computer that was built and programmed specifically to assist human beings inevitably does just the opposite.

To the uninitiated, the Internet of Everything was credited to Kevin Ashton who coined the term in 1999.  At its core, what it refers to are devices that in essence can sense their environment and communicate with other devices as well as with their owners and other people.  Already there is a smattering of smart appliances on the market, such as smart thermostats that automatically adjust the temperature based upon the user’s schedule and smart refrigerators that text you when you are running low on milk. But what most people are unaware of is the fact that appliance manufacturers, car builders and even textile producers are all looking to jump onto the bandwagon.

The reason for this is twofold:
1.      In the first place, both the costs and size of sensors, controllers, power supplies, memory and wireless transmitters is falling at a rapid pace.  (Combining these components into an existing appliance or piece of apparel is already below $30 in many cases using off-the-shelf components.) 
2.      As Google knows all too well, there’s money to be had in the sale of online advertising.  In the not-too-distant future you can expect your smart shirt to not only report to you and your doctor the state of your health, but you better bet that you will start receiving emails and texts for pharmaceuticals that purport to correct a condition or enhance performance. (If you think that TV ads can be annoying, just wait until your prescription medicine bottle and t-shirt starts working for Madison Avenue.)

Clearly the desire for smart devices is being touted by industry.  It’s also being pushed by the federal government, who is pushing for what’s known as V2V or Vehicle-to-Vehicle technology that is going to forever change the way you operate a motor vehicle.  While today’s cars and trucks are computerized, until now the only thing that these computers did was make sure that the engine was running properly.  With V2V, what is going to happen is that your car will become self-aware via sensors that are designed to detect and react to traffic in real time.  Try to enter an intersection where another vehicle is headed and the car will hit the brakes.  Try to merge into a lane where a truck is fast approaching and the car will take evasive action.  While this technology is being touted as a safety device, like every other technological innovation that has come down the pike, there is a dark side to it.

Just as with other internet-ready devices, V2V technology is designed to communicate with other vehicles wirelessly.  This opens the door for hacking.  While hacking your smart refrigerator may result in the milk spoiling, could hacking your V2V equipped car be an entrée for everything from digital road rage to kidnapping. Who knows?

What is a certainty is that smart devices are here to stay.  As opposed to waking up one morning to find yourself surrounded by self-aware appliances, it’s more likely that like the personal computer the paradigm shift will start slowly and then ramp up within the next three to five years.  Already devices and subscription services are starting to show up, such as AT&T’s digitallife service that offers to protect and automate your home for one low monthly price. 

Their YouTube video shows ma and pa sitting on the porch when the kids pull up. After telling their dad that they stopped by the house, Dad asks, “Did you leave the house in good shape?”  The twenty-something kid replies, “Of course.”  At which point, dad reaches into his pocket for his smartphone, which he uses to turn on the home’s cctv camera, turn off a faucet that was left running and lock the front door. (View the video below.)

My point is, once home automation becomes as turnkey as cable subscription services, the race will be on by businesses large and small to stake a claim. Remember all the entrepreneurs that entered the dial-up ISP business back in the late 90’s.  Of course, unlike these early Internet pioneers, if these Internet pioneers experienced technical difficulties such as their servers going down or when they got hacked, it was more of an inconvenience than an emergency.  If the new wave of home automation experiences a glitch, would it be possible that your home could aid and abet a burglar, or heaven forbid, would it be possible that you won’t be able to gain entry to your own premises?

“Open the front door, Hal!”

Need I say more?

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