Preparing for the Rise of the Increasingly Connected World
By Bevil Wooding
“I see the internet of things as a huge transformative development – a way of boosting productivity, of keeping us healthier, making transport more efficient, reducing energy needs, and tackling climate change” David Cameron, U.K. Prime Minister
Rise of the Devices
The Internet will soon be dominated by an exponentially growing number of machines and sensors, rather than people. This so-called internet of things poses interesting new challenges, but it is also opening up an exciting virtual world of new possibilities.
Kevin Ashton, in a seminal 2009 article for the RFID Journal titled, “That ‘Internet of Things’ Thing”, described the imminent rise of the devices and its impact on the world as we know it:
“If we had computers that knew everything there was to know about things—using data they gathered without any help from us—we would be able to track and count everything, and greatly reduce waste, loss and cost. We would know when things needed replacing, repairing or recalling, and whether they were fresh or past their best. The Internet of Things has the potential to change the world, just as the Internet did. Maybe even more so.”
The blurring of the lines between the physical world and the virtual is already radically altering business processes and practice. Digitalization is becoming more pervasive in organizations of every kind and in every sector. The momentum is only expected to increase over the course of the rest of this decade.
A report from ABI Research found there are more than 10 billion wirelessly connected devices in the global market. Those numbers are only expected to increase as the Internet of Things (IoT) expands to include more devices that can connect to the Internet. Gartner predicts the IoT base will grow to 26 billion units by 2020 not including smartphones, tablets and PCs. Including those items, other predictions have placed the number of Internet-connected devices in 2020 everywhere from 50 billion to 75 billion.
The Internet of Things could generate significant revenue for corporations as well as countries if they can position themselves today to take advantage of the emergence of new solutions and the creation of entirely new markets.
Research firm Gartner predicts there will be nearly 26 billion devices connected to the internet of things by 2020. Gartner expects the market to create $1.9 trillion of economic value added by 2020, outpacing traditional technology spending in the next few years as the physical and virtual worlds merge and more processes become digital.
Connected devices have the potential to open new markets for innovation for businesses and even entire industries. In the car industry, for example, Ford predicts that cars will have voice recognition capabilities to allow drivers to connect to their apps, pre-pay for gas, check on appointments or pre-order a coffee – all using their voice. There is huge potential for safety as well. The company envisions a future with wearable sensors for drivers with medical conditions that connect to your car and can prevent accidents during medical emergencies.
In education, a recently announced IoT £800,000 project in the UK, has businesses and academics joining forces to extend the Internet of Things into the classroom. Through the programme, Distance, a consortium for furthering education through advanced technologies, aims to develop “the internet of school things” with eight UK schools to “help make learning more exciting while linking directly into the education curriculum.”
The UK is investing heavily to secure its place in the connected future. UK Prime Minister David Cameron recently announced an additional £45 million in funding for research in areas linked to the Internet of Things (IoT) — taking the total U.K. allocation for helping to develop connected opportunities to around £73 million.
In justifying the increased government spend on the IoT research Cameron stated, “These are developments that could allow literally billions of everyday objects to talk to each other over the Internet – using low-cost, low-power chips. And this has enormous potential to change our lives,”
“Electricity meters that talk to the grid to get you the best deals. Health monitors that keep an eye on your heart rate. Water pipes that warn of a fall in pressure.”
The U.K. PM also announced a £1 million ‘European Internet of Things’ grant fund aimed at supporting early-stage Internet of Things startups. This grant fund is separate to the £45 million allocation.
Risks with Rewards
The message is clear, countries have to deliberately invest today, to reap the rewards of the connected future.
Of course, when any new technology opportunity comes new challenges and risks. Gartner fellow Steve Prentice warns of the moral implications were such devices to take on routine tasks that would traditionally be carried out by humans. Prentice says: “Smart machines are close to outsmarting the humans – whether driving a car or determining a medical diagnosis – leaving the human overseer with the responsibility but reduced capability. But, if we take the major step of changing the legal systems to give machines the responsibility for their own actions, can they also expect rights?”
IoT also brings inherent challenges in governance, data privacy, and security. For example, privacy risks arise as objects within the IoT collect and aggregate fragments of data that relate to their service. Such data collation in the context of location, time, recurrence, can provide insight into personal information. The regular purchase of different food types, for example, may divulge religion or ongoing health concerns. This is just one aspect of the growing big data challenge that the IoT facilitates.
As the Internet of Things becomes increasing integrated into everyday life, spanning from industrial control and infrastructure such as transport and power, to personal computers and wearable devices, these scenarios will only become more complex and have graver consequences. Security professionals, as well as policy makers, will need to ensure that enough consideration is given to these potential privacy and security risks.
The Internet of Things represents a significant new trend in which intelligent devices will become intertwined into our societies and businesses. IoT will touch more aspects of our lives and have a more profound effect in the workplace than can be easily extrapolated.
PM Cameron got it right when he stated, “I see the Internet of Things as a huge transformative development.” He predicts the IoT will usher in a “new industrial revolution.”
Given the impact it is already having, it is critical that policymakers and business leaders take steps now to understand how to leverage the Internet of Things, so our organizations and institutions can be active contributors to, and beneficiaries of, this new 21st century revolution.
Bevil Wooding is the Chief Knowledge Officer of Congress WBN (www.congresswbn.org), a values-based, international charity and the Executive Director of BrightPath Foundation, a technology education non-profit organization. Reach him on Twitter @bevilwooding or on facebook.com/bevilwooding or contact via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.