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Stage Two of The Internet: The Internet of Things

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The Internet of Things
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A global discussion of the divisive as well as uniting qualities of the IOT is vital for a balanced view of the implications of this world spanning technology. My own view is inclined to the optimistic, but my nerdy passion for history insists that as promising as the IOT is, shit can also really go wrong.

The Internet of Things is the much touted and also somewhat feared development of the internet’s already ubiquitous spread throughout Global society. To date the majority of the internet has been largely restricted to the vast information highways and video and audio communication between global citizens. To use an analogy, we currently connected to each other by the ears and eyes via the virtual world like one vast living artificial cognitive entity. And if that sounds a little frankenstienian, well its going to get stranger still as the IOT promises to connect our minds, our bodies and huge sections of the physical world together in cyberspace. Currently the internet consist of 4000 exabytes of information every day, or the equivalent of  a stack of books from here to Pluto and back 80 times over. With over 90% of the Earths surface having mobile phone access, the range of the internet has become almost universal globally. Dr John Barret – Head of Academic Studies at the Nimbus Centre for Embedded Systems Research at Cork Institute of Technology says he expects this to increase by an order of magnitude in the coming two decades as the internet integrates itself into the physical world as well as the informational one.

He says this will be done via the development of cheap industrial scale sensors and increasingly sophisticated software and artificial intelligence/management programs allowing the integration of real world technology, biology and systems, both technological and natural, into the internet’s web of connective feedback. The IOT will allow humanity to eventually monitor everything on the entire planet from the deepest oceans to high atmospheric data and the deepest mines and volcanic vents in the Earths crust. It will usher in the ability to observe and even control aspects of the real world from the internet via a world increasingly seeded with countless sensors, cybernetics and automated control mechanisms.

It will allow us to observe any implanted individual’s most fundamental biological data making predictive calculations on their future health states as well as designing personally customisable medical treatment. It will make crime and anti-social behaviour even more difficult to get away with and save countless lives in the various systems humanity currently relies on via AI management and automation through the world wide IOT. To the non-partisan person this broad scenario sounds both glorious and deeply ominous in its implications. But before we explore what these future implications are lets have a close look at what the IOT actually is and what it will do as it ‘grows’ into place.

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What is the IOT and what will it do?

The IOT will integrate goods, objects, machines, appliances, buildings, vehicles, animals, people, plants and soil with the internet via a web of sensors, implants and control technology vastly increasing the informational and behavioral scope of that medium. Or to use the common vernacular it will let us do virtually everything through the Internet, all the while maintaining a mass observational and interactive telepresence through out the planets various natural and artificial systems. So how does this process start? How will we all become hooked up to one another, to technology and eventually the planet itself?

Well its already started. Smart phones usage as remote controls, medical scanners and proxy credit facilities have already begun our journey on the road towards an eventual cyber-integration with everything. The smart phones we carry are increasingly able to talk to other technology via embedded sensors in the phones and the objects they interact with. These sensors cheap manufacture has become a reality in recent years and promises to become yet more economical and functional in the decades to come. These sensors will increasingly be using IPV6, which allows the assignment of an almost infinite number of unique identities on the Internet. Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) is the latest version of the Internet Protocol (IP), the communications protocal which provides an identification and location system for computers on networks and routes traffic across the internet. Over the coming decades IVP6 will become the dominant protocol as the IOT expands its identity sensor sphere into the real world. (Sounds like a nerdy invasion doesn’t it.)

Early sensors to be integrated into cars.

So the embedded sensors of the IOT will need wireless capacity and even remote operations of the object the sensor is in via embedded electronics/mechanics. These sensors and cybernetic systems connected to the electronic nervous system of the internet can spread into all our devices our physical homes, cars buildings, streets, natural ecologies  and eventually even our bodies via implants.

Now don’t freak out just yet. It is the nature of disruptive technologies like IOT, AI and automation to upset the apple cart. But before we look at the significant security issues of creating a vast ‘interactive’ nervous system for human civilization and the planet itself, lets look at the very good stuff it will bring us. The IOT will allow smart phones and later human implants (as those technologies become more sophisticated and sensor technology improves) to become much like the famous Star trek Tricorder. Your phone or you biological implant will be able to obtain detailed information from objects, weather, animals, ecologies and persons in both the near and far vicinity. They will also be able to operate certain systems including your car, home and other cybernetically empowered systems.

Here are just a few of the major benefits and disruptions.

Endangered ecologies like the Great barrier reef, the Amazonian rain forests or polluted water ways could be impregnated with sensors to monitor their health and determine levels of pollution, life form populations etc. Such real time monitoring would efficiently establish whether industrial effects, urbanization or agricultural activities were damaging ecosystems and by how much therefor allowing humanity to make informed adjustments in wild life management policies and development plans when necessary.

Access to scans and medical data in real time will be huge for the medical community. It will result in improved care and a literal el dorado for medical research vastly accelerating the development of new medicines, protocols and treatments. IOT will be able to provide people with personal awareness of stress levels, the healing rate of present injuries and monitoring disease states if you are suffering from a chronic ailment or infection. It will also allow a real time database to be built of a persons health helping medical professionals to forecast future disease states and even potential for physiological injury. It will be able to do this via real time data flow of everything from walking gait and postural information to biochemical and cardio-respiratory and vascular data from within the body.

The IOT will allow the sharing of personal likes and inclinations, political affiliations and sexual preferences if the broadcaster so desires. It will also allow the reading of similar messages coming from peoples implants and carried devices in the near and far vicinity. This exchange of affiliations likes, needs, experience and skill sets will allow a more seamless ongoing interaction between needs, wants and someone’s capacity and willingness to meet them. These exchanges could easily be selective based on software managed qualifiers that made sure only the appropriate person received an offer or communication. For example job status and personal qualifications could be broadcast to a likely agent who is in turn broadcasting a need for matching skills. Thus an employer could accidentally snag a valuable employee by casually parsing offered data.

Search engines that can scour the environment for objects as well as the Internet would be enormously useful. Ie; where are my keys? If those keys are tagged locatable objects in the IOT a search engine or primitive AI could find them for me. Or where is my child now when the little tike has run off in the supermarket or mall. It would allow the easy rescue of those lost in the wilderness or at sea and the in rescue team would know before operations began details about the state of the person health. It would be a world where people or items being lost was no longer possible, though this has some significant implications for privacy.

Orders on the Internet will have a real-time reference to the IOT making them 100% traceable with a complete transport history since departure right up to final delivery. This data could include the state of the item itself as well as ambient data on environmental conditions.

The IOT and its sensors net will enable better managing systems both natural and artificial. In farming this would be done with implanted sensors in the soil and air. This would help to manage agricultural yields and monitor local weather determining when harvesting, fertilization and watering was best done and in what proportions, based on real time data and complex soil biochemical updates from the IOT connected sensor net. Advice on sensors results could also be obtained from online experts and labs giving vastly greater speed to analysis.

The allocation of energy resources, smart meters and grid managed time schedules for cheaper electricity via the IOT will make for a far more efficient reliable power grid. Energy smart sensors can angle wind turbine blades and solar panels to maximize energy input/yield. Parts themselves could tell an engineers hand unit which turbines or mechanisms need servicing. She could also share the data if she needs help from HQ or even an enlisted smart mobs on the internet if the problem proves to be particularly intractable.

Such systems via a network of sensors in cars and passengers will remove the snarl of traffic jams that typify transport routes in most large cities. Traffic flows could be coordinated with predicted street work and unpredicted accidents calculated into the traffic intelligence emerging from the sensor network of smart cars and a web of communication network nodes. Making traffic more predictable, faster and safer. And such a system will be able to update city planners concerned with projected short falls in city infrastructure itself allowing for superior long range planning for future growth and traffic patterns.

The IOT will impact on recreation also and enter the real world with the spread of embedded sensors in the physical environment. As one company Layar.inc is already demonstrating, with its layering of reality via smart phones, smart glasses and corneal HUDS with software. This integrates reality with designed software realms taking gaming from the screen and fixed locations and back into the world. Games meshing with the real world to raise the possibility of play and work one day sharing the same place and time. And along with parallel advances in cybernetics, virtual reality, implant technology and external tech, the world of cyber-sex will make likely a solid leap from fetishism and nerdsville to mainstream practice, incidentally resolving one of he greatest problems of long distance relationships and perhaps changing the dynamic of human relationships forever.

Who hasn’t been stranded by airline delays due to the 10 % of unscheduled maintenance problems that commonly delay flights? What if all the parts on the plane could tell us when they were under performing or about to break down and/or were coded with predictive algorithms that could prevent 60,000 delays in the US alone. Think of the human frustration and the billions of dollars this costs the airline industry let alone the safety aspect as a failing plane part could let the pilot and ground control know it was going to fail and even provide a timeline before it stopped functioning. The life saving value of the IOT and embedded technology will be incalculable for the airline industry and their air going passengers.

Field studies could be done by one person who then through the IOT shared their site-specific data with the rest of their group back at Corp HQ, Government department or University research group. This could enable far great efficiency in use of assets and resources and a wider scope and diversification of study for groups and institutions.

Sensor technology would enable buildings to monitor the health and position of any embedded object or person in the building. An aged person who collapsed in their home could have an ambulance called for them by the buildings managing software meshed to the IOT. Software could also report if any part of the building was suffering structural integrity loss or even if adjunct systems like water or gas were in danger of malfunctioning. It could even warn a person of an impending stroke or heart attack before calling for help. The House AI could also regulate power use, open windows and manage automated cleaning systems as well as downloading specific media and even accepting ‘as an agent’ packages for the owner.

Data management and mining industry will boom in the flourishing of the IOT and a sensor soaked environment taking raw data and putting into usable data sets. Knowledge mining to extract useful contextually relevant information ideas from raw data sets will also explode as part of the refining process though it will require significant contextual wisdom to guide this process away from being a top down delivered system and allow it to emerge and evolve as a mass cultural, democratic exploration of humanities vast new data bank. The formation of what “David Brin” describes as ‘Smart mobs’ of global citizens, combining huge numbers of peoples mental and computing power temporarily for very specific problem solving and data parsing, will be empowered by the scope provided by the IOT.

The IOT is intrinsically the design of artificial as well as human intelligence into the human and eventually even the natural world. One where systems of the IOT are linked by both predictive and reactive feedback loops of data that allows the IOT and its agents to let us have what we need and want to know without us always having to search and request such data/services. AI with even a very limited capacity could allow efficiency filtering based on your own needs and desires. Better AI and eventually cybernetic human augmentation will be vital to prevent the IOT collapsing in on itself under overwhelming data growth and the need to filter and sort this data meaningfully. Without the development of better AI in the search engine and management software to create superior parsing and filtering capacity human beings in the IOT would soon find they were unable to keep up with the increased data flows demanding their attention.

Structural sensors let buildings actually tell us how they’re doing.

The Dark lining to this silver cloud.

By 2032 we could individually be in contact per day with 3000 to 5000 smart objects. Enabling vastly greater function, play and efficiency in the world. But the IOT has also been called a Weapon of mass disruption for its capacity to do the very transformations written about. The flourishing of the IOT could usher in a truly global technocracy (arguably we already live in one) and perhaps push us closer to a rational utopia. But there are some problems also with the IOT and rather frightening ways it could and likely will be used by some individuals, groups and nations. So what are the opportunity costs of having a ubiquitous IOT running almost everything on a planetary scale.

The first loss may be that privacy becomes obsolete in relation to the benefits of being constantly surveyed. 18th century building designer Jeremy Benthams rather grim idea of a constant surveillance society (Panopticon) based on his prison designs shows us that it’s not all roses and chocolates in our growing love affair with technology and the spread of the IOT.  And we may only regret privacies loss once it is irredeemably gone as the IOT, much like the proverbial genie once released, could never be put back into the bottle.

Individually focused advertising will be extraordinarily handy where only the things we want and need are shown to us. But a sensor-ridden society means that our ability even in the furthest tracks of wilderness to escape an advertising endemic society may become impossible. Such an intrusion is not something to be considered lightly when ultra thin advertising screens can be incorporated into any surface at all and embedded communications sensors can ping your device constantly even while on an Arctic trip. Nowhere, nor anyone will be free from that nagging pull on your virtual presence.

Other worries are insurance companies could know when your health risk data altered and move to penalize you to lower their risk, while employers could also minimize their risk exposure in the hiring process by accessing data about your past and present mental and physical health. Such lack of privacy could compromise your ability to move on in your life as an increasing number of agencies judge you on your previous actions and conditions of the past. You could also be penalized by the same predictive forecasting of future health issues that saves your life as the predicted cost of your future health care hits your ‘existing’ premiums or an employer rejects you on the basis of future health risk cutting your work span or productivity.

And this raises another question. Who will own all this data and what legal system will administer proprietary and innate rights onto the IOT? Patent and copyright may well stifle the IOT in lawsuits and fear. Or those control mechanisms may be simply overwhelmed by this new data rich paradigm.

Data tracking ideas to control ownership and proprietary rights may become a whole new industry in itself, though this may not bode well for privacy and individual rights on the IOT if the same monopoly dominated copyright systems secure control of the emerging IOT. Will all this prevalent data become a new socially disruptive WMD in society creating chaos and opportunity alike? Or will it fall into the hands of big money’s monopolistic interests. Not to mention the security of the IOT which has been identified by leading security experts as a potentially shocking vulnerability for almost everyone. Already the countless torrent of service attacks, virus’s and malware invasions computer networks are currently subject to is mind-boggling.

The extension of a software layer to physical reality that vastly increasing the size of the internet raises a nightmare scenario of cars, power networks, utilities, automated factories and even our homes being co-opted by criminal influences, hostile governments or manipulative corporations. And this also includes the possibility of our own domestic governments hijacking the IOT to spy and even control fundamental features of their citizen’s lives. Considering this as technology that later in the century progresses towards cybernetic implants in humans means the stakes and potential damage of cyber manipulation over the IOT is too great to simply dismiss.

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Conclusion

Despite this rather dark prognosis of the security of the IOT, my own thoughts are that in spite of occasional failures security will largely triumph over specific interests and criminal enterprises however powerful. Probably driven by an enormous global market and culture that will certainly insist on security and reliability. A good existing example of this is E-commerce, online banking and purchasing which is now largely safe and reliable. Governments and corporate bodies power to use the IOT to control their citizens and consumers will be subject to enormous scrutiny making any surreptitious manipulation of peoples ‘direct’ security very problematic.

It will also create a security/marketing war between advertisers, hackers and security/filtering systems indirectly creating many new jobs in cyber security and data integrity as the IOT spreads into the physical world. Personally I think the greatest challenge to the IOT will present in its ability to enhance the already present ‘Google effect’. That rather negative phenomena where it’s possible to filter out anything that you do not wish to see or experience, completely tailoring your experience of the world via the internet.

As the IOT spreads everywhere via trillions of sensors and cybernetic systems, people will be able to interpret both the real and virtual world through their own selected filters. The danger being, that billions of differentiated, perceptually disconnected bubbles will form within the IOT in the long term. This is something that could severely damage societies ability to evolve and progress in objective terms. As much as the IOT could unify humankind, if the law of unintended consequences functions as normal, it could also allow sectarianism and subjectivism to gain traction in the global culture causing immense human suffering.

A global discussion of the divisive as well as uniting qualities of the IOT is vital for a balanced view of the implications of this world spanning technology. My own view is inclined to the optimistic, but my nerdy passion for history insists that as promising as the IOT is, shit can also really go wrong.

There is no bull without the horns.

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