I spend much of my time focused on helping companies understand the IoT, the technology involved and how they can use it to build new, connected products. It’s a great time to be a part of this ecosystem. Everything is, by most measures, a new opportunity to explore. Innovation is rampant and the pace of change is astounding. In simple terms, it’s fun.
But my endeavors in the IoT also leads me to some unanswered and, at times, troubling questions about what we’re building – and the impact it will have on our way of life. Humans are curious by nature, and I have no doubt we’re going to use this new connected paradigm to answer profound questions about the universe, our existence, and the essence of what it means to be alive. I’m confident we’ll find solutions to solve global issues like hunger, energy and healthcare. But I’m also thinking about the potential reshaping of global power, economic and cultural influence. The new risks and threat profiles being introduced. And on a deeply personal level, the provocative issues that will emerge from connected artificial intelligence related to our mortality, morality and fundamental beliefs.
The risk and reward of creating a connected global economy
Back in 2011, the term “Industry 4.0” was born, and today it’s being applied to a wide variety of scenarios. While the original intent was manufacturing focused, the notion of cyber-physical connection now makes sense more broadly. The technology can support it. What’s not mature is the process of mitigating risk when a major center of influence fails. Look no further than the global disruption being created right now by China’s markets and the price of oil. If we’re going to take advantage of global options to drive sustainable production and revenue, we are going to need a better way of ensuring the interdependencies are not easily compromised.
A deeper risk profile
As a New Yorker who witnessed 9/11 first hand, terrorism has made an unfortunate and lasting impression on my thinking. When we talk about connecting everything, my mind races to scenarios for potential disaster – potential disruption and tragedy on a scale we haven’t yet experienced. Connected and interdependent power grids could be taken down. Control systems for transportation. Even the data used to mitigate these threats, which is being more centrally amassed and analyzed, could be more readily compromised. In some cases, there is benefit to fragmentation. This is where new methods of authentication and security need to evolve in parallel with methods for creating connected ecosystems. My friend and cybersecurity expert Sultan Meghji, founder of Virtova, wrote about this shortly after the Paris attacks. It’s worth reading.
Privacy and connected things
Before engaging the IoT, I spent nearly 20 years in enterprise networking and telecom. Over the years, growing mobile phone usage created a pervasive privacy issue related to call detail records and usage information. We have seen it again with cloud, and the requirements related to the storage and transmission of data. The real heartburn is created when privacy questions moved across borders. Different countries apply different rules, and we’re going to face even more complex challenges with a deeply connected ecosystem. I am most concerned about the ownership, and liability, of data in motion. When data moves from a smart home device to a gateway, and then to a server and ultimately to another endpoint, where does ownership lie? Data will be the lifeblood of revenue in the IoT for sure, and I expect ownership of that data to be hotly contested.
Over the course of history, mankind has demonstrated a relentless curiosity for what’s possible, and seemingly impossible. For all of these concerns, I know we will find answers. I can only hope we will explore the reality, context, and implications of what’s next.