The New Age of Innovation: Understanding the Internet of Things (IoT)

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via The Market Mogul : The Internet of Things has been described as the third wave of computing. Computation – making the basics of computing work – was the first wave, while the second wave centred on networking. The third wave, which is currently still in its infancy, aims to make computers part of the physical world in which society lives. Recode summarise the concept very effectively: ‘IoT refers to the connection of everyday objects to the Internet and to one another, with the goal being to provide users with smarter, more efficient experiences’. These everyday objects collect real-time data on surroundings, such as temperature – but rather than sending it off for some form of human interaction, it will instead send the data to another object, which will act upon it.

The desired task is performed, yet the only action that a human may have to do is a quick press of a button on a mobile app. A few examples of IoT that someone may already have experienced include courier parcel tracking, a Fitbit, a smartphone, and the timetable screens at a local train station – but in future, people are likely to see even more advanced technologies as the concept’s full potential is realised.

The Internet of Things means huge possibilities for both consumers and companies. In a dedicated report on IoT, GSMA (a representative body for mobile network operators) described how consumers can benefit from ‘solutions that dramatically improve energy efficiency, security, health, education and many other aspects of daily life’.

Increasing Complexity

As the technology develops, the everyday scenarios that are catered for may become more complex too; for example, somebody’s TV may know to automatically pause or mute itself when they are busy, or leave the room. At the same time, enterprises are set to benefit from improved ‘decision-making and productivity in manufacturing, retail, agriculture’ in particular.

There is also the third beneficiary – the state and local government – who could use IoT technology to help create ‘smart cities’; a networked urban society in which intelligent traffic structures and renewable energy amongst other things contribute to a new level of efficiency and life quality.

These smarter traffic systems could give a commuter a week’s worth of time back a year, because of said improved efficiency. It is worth mentioning however that despite all these possibilities, the idea of a completely integrated network of ‘things’ remains problematic, due to the competitive nature of different brands all developing similar products. Companies are reluctant to allow functionality for their products to connect to those of other companies – mainly to try to encourage brand loyalty amongst consumers, but this means that the Internet of Things will currently only exist in clusters, rather than the single vast interconnected network that it is often hailed to be.

How IoT Can Tackle Poverty

The potential of the Internet of Things has led to the discussion of the ways it could be used to tackle poverty. The approaches to development in poorer areas of the world, such as sub-Sharan Africa, could be revolutionised by IoT through smarter agricultural systems. A ‘smart farm’ would be able to give statuses of crops and the soil, the farmer would be able to control processes remotely, and data models could ensure minimal food waste.

The GSMA estimates that 40 million people in developing countries could be fed each year by preventing food wastage using IoT technology. Critical to the success of these ideas, though, is the affordability of the technology; developing countries obviously have less wealth than those regions where IoT products are sold on a consumer level, and therefore it is likely that a conscious effort will be needed to make sure these farmers can realistically afford the equipment. If not, the inequality will only grow larger. But despite this, for both developed and developing regions, IoT technology could prove really quite ground-breaking.

However, should individuals be concerned at the amount of personal data that will be collected about in order for these ideas to be materialised? Given that a lot of IoT products will be in the home, the implications for privacy can appear quite serious. It is reasonable to be concerned without a doubt – smart-home devices, for example, will know a great deal about our personal lives, from daily routines to transactions, medical requirements, and even what room we’re in – in the wrong hands, this information could be manipulated in very dangerous ways.

Even more worrying is the automated nature of it all. It’s not like posting on social media where a conscious choice is made each time; these objects will simply be turned on and will start transmitting data straight away, with limited human control. Furthermore, the interconnected nature of all these devices also increases the risk involved – if one product is attacked by malware, can all the other products in the network also then be infiltrated? While a far less malicious example, there have already been cases where IoT fridges have started sending spam emails. It’s too soon to tell how secure an IoT-rich society would be – but at least from a consumer perspective, it is important to note that the businesses offering smart product have reputations to uphold, and therefore will certainly go to lengths to ensure that no privacy breaches are possible. Even so, it seems clear that a real effort will need to be made to prove the technology is safe in order for it to be fully engaged in by consumers.

Conclusion

The hype behind the Internet of Things is clearly well-justified; there seems to be a near endless list of possibilities throughout societies and nations. It is easy to be swept up by the apparent dangers of sharing so much data online where it could be comprised, but overall, IoT should be viewed with a great deal of optimism regarding the benefits it could bring – not only to developed countries but also to the poorer areas of the world that really need change.

Source : The Market Mogul | The New Age of Innovation: Understanding the Internet of Things (IoT)

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