The Internet of Things – Possibilities and Downside

Internet-of-things “Good Morning, sir! I’ve regulated the temperature to your liking. You can have your orange juice now,” your refrigerator tells you as you move towards it for your morning juice. “I took the liberty to check your Google Calendar and there’s a party on for day after tomorrow. Given that Sebastian and Elina accepted the invitation, I’ve placed an order for 3 lbs of meat for steaks as you prefer a steak party with the two of them. Moreover, you drank the last can of Coke last night so I’ve placed the order for that, too. And don’t worry, I’ve notified the supermarket to deliver the goods after 7 PM as you’re home by that time.” You nod along having that glass of orange juice. You then put it in the sink and walk towards the bathroom for a brush and a shower. There, you find that the bath has already been prepared by your bathtub and the temperature is just perfect according to the weather your bathtub found out assessing the latest weather forecast. While you’re brushing your teeth, the mirror in the bathroom comes to life and shows you a summarized view of your Facebook news feed, Twitter timeline, and news from the sources you prefer, thanks to Google web history it keeps of you. In case you are wondering, this is not a day out of the life of Tony Stark in the next Iron Man movie, or an excerpt from a Sci-Fi novel I’m writing these days. This could be our world in the next ten years from now. Lo and behold the INTERNET OF THINGS. 

 Things and Internet? Wait, What?

Coined in 1999, Internet of Things is a terminology that refers to a ubiquitous and universal network comprised of everyday objects, i.e. parking meter, traffic signal, washing machine, TV, fridge, coffee mug, and virtually everything in the world, connected with each other and the World Wide Web to serve you, the end user. I know what you might be thinking right now: Hey! I’ve seen that documentary of a smart house. Is Internet of Things a fancy name for that? Well, no! A smart house is a tip of the iceberg of services, products, amenities, and possibilities Internet of Things has to offer. Transformation of ARPANET into the Internet has redefined the way we conduct business, communicate with family and friends, protest for democracy and human rights, and even the very fabric of the human nature and psychology. But Internet is mainly comprised of interconnected computers (be they in the form of a server or your smartphone). Internet of Things, however, promises a world where everything comes with some sort of a transceiver in them that allow them to communicate with each other and with the Internet. Imagine what kind of a tectonic change would it bring in our lives; how Internet of Things in its prime, would change the very processes we take for granted and the very social norms. And the best thing is, it could happen in our lifetimes.

Possibilities

  • Imagine if your washing machine had the ability to comprehend the pattern of you doing laundry. It can then automatically wash appropriate dresses for you based on the occasion and a day of a week so you won’t have to bother to wash your favorite shirt that you wear to dates or your costume you wear to paintball matches.
  • Imagine if your self-driving car by Google drives itself for a monthly maintenance to the nearest automatic repair shop during the time you were catching up with episodes of TV shows on Netflix.smart-home
  • Imagine if a nanobot in your body kept track of your diet and notify you and your physician if it detected early signs of any disease.
  • Imagine to return to your cleaned, vacuumed home everyday from work.
  • Imagine if your home could talk to your farmhouse in the suburbs, notifying it that you plan on visiting it for the weekend. The smart appliances in your other house would clean it, order food for it, and make sure everything is set so you could just unlock the door (maybe not as the door could detect you and unlock itself) and start enjoying weekend with your family.
  • Imagine if your TV went from telecast to recording mode of  the football game as soon as you fell asleep. You can then catch up with the game during lunch time at work. You can ask your smartphone to mute all game-related tweets and news items so you won’t get any sort of spoilers and can enjoy the game with that bowl of salad.
  • Imagine in case of an earthquake, the nanobot in your body could transmit your exact location to the accuracy of a few meters along with your vital signs so rescuers know exactly where you are and what is your current status.
  • Imagine a surgeon getting instant access to your medical history including past treatments and known allergies in case of an accident.
  • Imagine air crafts communicating with each other, notifying each other of their altitude, speed, and heading so a bunch of air traffic controllers won’t have to do the job.
  • Imagine the powerhouse in your city could communicate to the powerhouse in your neighboring city, asking for extra energy as one of its grids just shut down due to some fault; all of this happening with no human intervention or supervision at all.

I could go on and on about the possibilities as they’re only limited by our imaginations in the case of Internet of Things. The truth of the fact is, it will take your life, turn it upside down, and hand it back to you. You now have all the free time in the world to cultivate stronger relationships, to do things that really matter instead of wasting two hours on a trivial task as doing laundry.

 The Downside

Vulnerability

vulnerabilties-iotIt doesn’t take anyone much time to realize the downfall of such aggressively connected world of people, devices, and objects. If a virus today hit the Internet, it could only affect computers (maybe smartphones) but in the world where your city’s electrical grids are connected to  the Internet, the risks would unfold exponentially. What if a malicious user got access to your home security system and disabled it to facilitate a robbery? What if your SMART TV sent out malicious emails and spread a virus to almost a million devices worldwide? There are various scenarios that could come up when one’s even thinking about compromising such a vast network. If hackers got access to your devices, they could do way worse than turning your lounge’s light on and off; they can steal your private information including your behaviors and discern patterns out of these behaviors. Many of these things can be used in a planning process of plain ol’ organized crime or even online identity theft. If you think that we may have time to prepare for security for devices as the reality of the Internet of Things is far away. Well, then you couldn’t be more wrong. There have been several incidents that involved home appliance devices to send out malicious code to other devices; essentially recruiting them to spread the malicious program further. Moreover, there’s a search engine, Shodan, that searches the Internet to find things instead of web pages. In many instances, Shodan found a lot of security cameras, home automation systems, water treatment plants, traffic signals, power plant controls, and even Google’s headquarters in Australia. If a malicious user discovered those devices, they could try a number of known vulnerabilities unless one of them stuck, leaving that device at the mercy of the malicious user.

Capitalism

You’re a multi-billion dollars manufacturing firm that has put millions in R&D to manufacture your products that can avail Internet of Things and connect to other devices. Would you not want the end-user to use not onlyuncle-sam-capitalism the TV you produced but also the refrigerator? That is, if you want both to connect and share data. Scale it up to ISP’s partnering with devices manufacturers to prioritize their traffic, essentially taking a U-Turn from the open model of the Internet that made it a flat playing field for everyone. Capitalism is a knock-out punch for an open, flat, and unbiased Internet of Things where devices can connect, communicate, and even share data with their competitors’ devices. It’s not hard to understand how this model can be a pain for greedy corporations wanting to collect every bit of profit out of their products or services. But, it is unlikely for capitalism to win this war against Creative Commons. But these starting years of the Internet of Things would define how it’d shape to be in the future. We can hope to observe and make use of the flat hierarchy of the Internet in the world of Internet of Things. It won’t be long when we’d start seeing new devices being manufactured with the ability to communicate with each other, analyze their consumers’ behaviors, and automate change with little or no supervision. When that happen, all of our lives will be changed forever.

Basit Saeed

Passionately a software developer, Basit Saeed considers himself a person who believes in software and social media being the change agents of 21st century. He is a techy, a gadgets freak, and loves playing with code whenever he can. He tweets at @basit_saeed.

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