CARS AND HOUSES are not the only things being wired up with sensors. There are numerous devices that monitor blood pressure, heart rate, levels of hormones and blood components and the like.
Sensors are now being connected directly to the internet or to a smart phone and stored in the Cloud for monitoring and analysis. Again, the estimates are that there will be about 400 million wearable wireless sensors by 2014 (See the current figures below).
And the Catch?
Everybody who has experienced that moment when a computer or phone has defeated all your attempts to do something basic such as connecting to a wireless network. At times like these, it’s hard to imagine a technology-driven utopian world in which billions of devices are all communicating seamlessly and controlling everything around us to improve our lives.
But it really isn’t as simple as that. The recent major outage of the BlackBerry Messaging Network serves as a reminder that something as relatively simple as delivering messages from one phone to another, over a network that is supposed to be robust and fault-tolerant, can still be difficult to get right.
NetGear’s Connected Lifestyle Survey has recently shown that in Australia, there are 18 million internet-enabled devices that are not connected. These devices include TVs, games consoles, music and media players.
It’s not clear from the report, though, if they are not connected because of the technical difficulty in connecting them or simply because the owners didn’t know or care about the benefits of doing so. Clearly the growth and sustainability of the Internet of Things will not be able to rely on the ordinary consumer for connectivity and maintenance.
A recent blog on The Economist highlights issues with the infrastructure, privacy and the danger of a catastrophic failure in an Internet of Things world. Perhaps the most pressing of concerns Schumpeter raises is that of who will end up owning and controlling the data from the Internet of Things.
We are rapidly proceeding to a point where the range of data being collected can literally be used to reconstruct a person’s life. The privacy issues brought about by the Internet of Things will make concerns about our interactions on social media giants such as Facebook seem trivial by comparison.
The recent furore over the German Government’s use of spyware to watch its citizens is also a harbinger of the amount of information that can be obtained by controlling connectedness to the internet.
The Internet of Things can ultimately be used for the benefit or detriment of individuals and society as a whole. Although business will argue a whole raft of benefits that include increasing efficiency, safety and health, these need to be balanced by safeguards and controls.
The ethics of mass connectivity have yet to be developed.