A company uses the international network of connected devices – commonly called the Internet of Things or (IoT) – to track their “things” from point of manufacture through their entire lifecycle before they hit the shelf at a retailer.
Normal? Yeah, this feels OK…
Usually, the story would stop there, but it doesn’t.
At the retail store these “things” gather data about how long they’ve been on the shelf, how many times they’ve been purchased, how many times they were returned, and the margin made on each sale. The retail center’s information systems capture this data and correlate it against service center data. This data is then used to advise customers as to when their warranties are up, when their “thing” needs to be updated or when the next version of their “thing” is available for purchase.
Yup, still normal. This happens every day and we’re either used to it or not shocked by it anymore when it happens.
Now, somebody buys one of these “things” and it continues gathering data. It provides usage statistics, methods of operations data, it is communicating to a home server where new firmware is automatically pushed to it to keep it up to standards, maybe it reaches out through the Internet to synchronize its time with an atomic clock.
Still normal? A little creepy, but yeah, probably still OK.
Now the company that manufactures the device starts gathering your usage statistics and uses its big data systems to dynamically build a profile of you. They tap into your digital activity tracker to check your heart-rate, they gather your demographic data and compare that to your social data to figure out how to market other products to you, they check your social media feeds to track any posts you make about the product, if any of your friends purchase the same product it links that data to your profile to further compile your social network. You traveled with it, so now it gathers where you went, how you traveled, where you stayed, and even the ambient temperatures of your surroundings.
Still normal? Or, am I starting to tip the scales?
The same Internet that was once merely a collection of static webpages in its infancy, has now morphed into a highly dynamic, highly responsive, interconnected mesh of sensors, devices, and servers, that when configured properly, can talk directly to one another or to a set of centralized servers. to share information without any human involvement. We are talking about machines that can learn simply by talking to each other, machine to machine, potentially creating the next wave of technological transformation, innovation, and possibly disruption.
This Internet of Things will contain a myriad of data points that if accumulated into big data frameworks could be used to create aggregate profiles of anything imaginable. The positive possibilities for improving our lives are endless, but so too are the potential downsides. Security will be the primary concern. Recent news articles point to the need to pay increased attention to what you are agreeing to when you accept software license agreements. In this IoT world, you will have the same right to opt-in to data sharing, but what you are opting into may be in the fine print. Perhaps most important, is to mind when you have the right to opt-out. The IoT essentially depends on a society that is desensitized to the risks of data sharing and accepts a new world where such discussions rarely take place. This is the “creepy” factor that rests in the promise of the IoT. It is creepy to think of how much data can be shared machine to machine through artificial neural networks. Perhaps, what is even creepier is to think about how unaware we are when they do.
My view? The Internet of Thing is an evolution in our technology journey with perhaps some revolutionary aspects that will make us pause and consider how we want to proceed as a society. Heretofore, technology has evolved and we have shifted accordingly; essentially accepting the revolutionary aspects at face value. This time, we really must think this through. At an individual level, you must assess how much you are willing to participate in this increasingly connected world. Sociologically, we must determine as a people how much we are willing to let our machines do on our behalf, sometimes without our knowledge.
Jonathan P. Goldstein, PMP