|Issue:||North America I 2016|
|Topic:||Quo Vadis, Internet?|
Slawomir Wolf, CEO at AVSystem, the market leader in large scale, multi-protocol device management solutions for Telecoms and Internet Service Providers. As a graduate of Krakow AGH University of Science and Technology he is the co-founder of AVSystem and stands behind the company’s success. AVSystem with its wide range of products and solutions such as Coiote – platform for secure and reliable IoT & device management, is an active member of Open Mobile Alliance, organization which standardizes protocols for upcoming IoT revolution (LWM2M).
Are the omnipresent sensors and cameras or devices communicating with one another, constantly exchanging information without us being aware of this fact really the kind of world we’d like to live in? In such a world, will there even be place for privacy? Is the reality described by Philp K. Dick in his science fiction short story Minority Report (1956) (and then in the 2002 film directed by Steven Spielberg) really that distant?
In the last 15 years, we have observed technological progress being reflected in the more effective miniaturization of devices, enhanced wireless technologies, and energy-saving electronics thus making our everyday life more convenient. The idea of connecting various devices to the Internet lures its users with an immediate increase of living comfort or with an automatization of recurring activities. This is, however, related to the problem of data security, preserving one’s online anonymity and usage of information gathered by intelligent appliances used daily. Thus, are we ready for such a revolution?
Humans have always strived to improve the way we exchange information. The reason for Internet development was the need for fast transmission of large amounts of data; initially the transmission speed was very low. Then after some time, audio-video streaming became possible thanks to engineers’ endeavors. And now, it’s natural even for a toddler to have a video conversation with their grandma. But, is it all the Internet can offer? Let’s not forget, that a human being has much more senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. Although we cope very well with the transmission of data, sound and vision, we are still technologically not capable of remote recreation of smell, taste or touch. The Internet of Things, which nowadays is slowly taking real shape, is only a step towards a network, which in the future would enable the transmission of senses. Such a network could be called the Sensenet™ and would be a step towards a tighter integration of men and machines. It’d be a daring step, but would it be a safe one?
IoT – Telemetry all over again
For now, we’re not yet able to reach such integration, thus we try to connect simple devices to the Net. Today’s Internet of Things is based on more isolated, independent telemetric networks focused on collecting data from different sensors. At the current stage of development, IoT solutions offer nothing more advanced than telemetric solutions that have already been present on the market for some time. The main area of interest is all sorts of data collected from various sources – data concerning temperature, humidity, air pollution, power consumption, water levels. Sometimes the data is collected due to the need of monitoring and detection of anomalies, and sometimes its collection is related with tracking the newest trends – every business needs to have its own big data. The challenge for the industry will not only be the analysis of the collected data, but successful integration between different platforms so that devices could contact with one another intrinsically. A smart washing machine is capable of not only purchasing the washing powder to keep its stock on a desired level, but can also turn itself on when the electricity is the cheapest, having automatically downloaded such data directly from the power supplier. The basic variant of such a solution, one not demanding the integration between different IoT platforms, could rely on reporting to the device manufacturer the device status together with characteristics of its performance. From the technical point of view, such information could be utilized to create more personalized products, and from the economical point of view – it could be helpful in terms of elimination of redundant functions affecting the cost of production.
In the future, the power of the Internet will rely on spontaneous detection and creation of business interactions between systems, which today are entirely independent. It is obvious that this is a challenge for the whole market and specifically, the industry gathered around the idea of IoT.
As I mentioned, IoT applications nowadays are nothing more than slightly more advanced telemetry, where in the majority of cases the main task is to collect information from dispersed sensors and perform actions on the basis of predefined rules. The commands are transmitted to the devices from the central server processing data sent by the network of sensors. After some time, the responsibility for the decision-making process can be transferred onto the devices themselves. Predefined logic utilizing the data shared by other smart appliances can appear to the end-user as if it was some kind of artificial intelligence.
Architectures of an IoT network
Here’s where the engineers are faced with the challenge of standardization of the technologies of communications or the protocols themselves. Nowadays, the situation resembles the Biblical Tower of Babel – the sensors communicate within their networks using various protocols created by the vendor of a given device. Such an incompatibility will hinder the implementation of new applications built according to the idea of the Internet of Things. Adoption of one well-defined technology (or an set of standards) according to which different sensors could communicate is highly crucial. While this aspect is not that essential in case of networks of centralized infrastructure, such an ability to communicate is extremely important in case of sensors or devices connected to the Internet. Thanks to that, smart appliances become capable of autodetection of functions available in other devices and of utilization of information provided by them.
So far, the Internet of Things has been a not entirely defined and rather vague concept. Different companies try to embrace their own solutions with this term. Some of them aim at improving the living standards by implementing the idea of “smart”: starting from a smartwatch, through a smarthome to a smartcity. On designers’ drawing boards, various conceptions of smart cities emerge, where all the aspects of citizens’ lives interact and are monitored. There’s only one goal: to enhance the city life, to improve the quality and comfort of life of the inhabitants thanks to the collection of as much information about people’s behavior and needs as possible. Marketing departments of big corporations are for sure trying to persuade the consumers that another smart device is exactly the one they really need for their life to become easier and more comfortable. But, will the ever-growing comfort zone and the ever-increasing life level turn out to be the factor positively affecting the human species? Won’t the too deep a penetration by technology of more and more basic everyday activities foster the further shallowing of interpersonal relations? For sure, as every technological revolution, the Internet of Things carries with it this kind of risk. Of course, its supporters will proclaim solely the positive outcomes of the technological progress. Let’s imagine smart cars allowing for a better utilization of natural resources, lower power consumption, increased optimization of the route based on the information available thanks to traffic light sensors and data sent out from other cars. Such cars are also capable of self-steering in a predictable way, leading to the decrease in the number of road collisions and casualties. There are tests carried out in order to investigate the solutions enabling creation of “highway trains”. Doesn’t such a concept sound too good to be true? How high a price one will have to pay for such fantasies to become reality?
Privacy in the IoT era
Are the omnipresent sensors and cameras or devices communicating with one another, constantly exchanging information without us being aware of this fact really the kind of world we’d like to live in? In such a world, will there even be place for privacy? Is the reality described by Philp K. Dick in his science fiction short story Minority Report (1956) (and then in the 2002 film directed by Steven Spielberg) really that distant? Probably the issue of access to sensitive data will be the next challenge that will have to be faced by designers of new products and services based on the idea of Internet of Things. For some of us, sharing all their personal information with others will not be any problem; it can even be some kind of adventure or a goal per se to become visible in the Internet. I believe though, that the majority of us, will ask themselves a question: isn’t the price we have to pay for being a part of the world where a network predicts our needs too high? Even now, we’re encouraged to carry with us more and more smart gadgets. The so-called wearables monitor the heart rate, the step count, allow for picking up one’s phone or check one’s inbox. From the security point of view, smartphones are already a kind of handcuffs. An efficient computer, carried by us in our pocket makes it easy to localize us. It encourages its users to utilize it as a credit card. Advertised as a convenient solution, allows the service providers for gaining an even better knowledge about our needs, shopping choices and even the fact of leaning toward consumerism. Additional electronics that will find place in our pockets or on our wrists will be yet another source of interesting information. Isn’t the risk that someone could use the gathered data in an inappropriate way excessively probable?
It will be our responsibility not to let the revolution lead to an even stricter control over our lives; we’ll have to stay cautious to steer the IoT revolution towards the right direction. The metamorphosis of the Internet is happening right in front of us, while the Internet has already for a long time not been a lawless place of careless expression of thought. The correlation between the popularization of smart objects and the easiness of tracking individuals and affecting their lives has long been apparent.
One thing is certain – there are interesting years of technological innovation based on interaction between objects awaiting us. But it is us that will decide, if the final outcome of the revolution will be a beneficial one. Fortunately, till a real artificial intelligence comes to being, all objects and devices comprising the Internet of Things shouldn’t constitute a real danger. After all, we can always turn them off.