We've been talking about the Internet of Things (IoT) in an abstract way for years. But without us really noticing, it’s now a reality.
The very term IoT confuses us, so I’ve tried to break it down into it’s simplest explanation:
Sensors/devices collect information
Information is sent to the cloud (e.g. through WiFi, Bluetooth, or connecting directly to the internet)
Data is processed, either in very complex ways, or it could be as simple as checking whether your central heating is at the right temperature
We see the result somehow (via text, email etc notification, or on-demand via a dashboard)
We can then decide what to do with the data. We could, at this point, tie-in Machine Learning (ML) or Artificial Intelligence (AI) to make specific actions happen automatically (like an ‘IF’ formula in Excel).
An example could be your central heating. You control it via your phone, and usually have a timer ensuring that the house is cosy when you get home. Your flight’s delayed at the end of a business trip, and your heating (via the app on your phone, which is also linked to the airline’s live updates) knows that you’ll be home late. It calculates the time you’ll arrive home, based on flight information, the volume of traffic on your route back and other things. It only turns on when necessary, saving you money on unnecessary heating. Oh, and your oven also preheats to the right temperature for the ready-meal you bought at the airport...
This isn't future, sci-fi stuff. This is now.
There will be an unimaginable number of interconnected data points that MIGHT represent us well. Or might build an almost perfect perception of who we are, recommending features, benefits, products, (schools, countries to relocate to based on our living habits, jobs, medical care, etc.) based on our previous choices.
Will this ultimately shape who we are and whom we become in the future? The complexity of the IoT is so intricate that it makes my brain short-circuit.
Here are just 4 of the positives IoT brings us:
AI, ML and Deep Learning (DL) enable the processing of raw data and the analysis of data at a previously unimaginable scale. Information that would take a team of humans years to analyse and collaborate is the work of minutes.
Focusing on Healthcare as an example, the potential for medical advancements through rapid analysis of patient files, history, and diagnostics alone is an awesome thought. Add to this the usage of Big Data for predictions and early diagnosis, plus Smart Devices (e.g. Smart Dispensers for home-use that alert healthcare teams automatically if medication isn't taken in the correct time frame) then it's clear there are more leaps in advancement to come.
With so much available and interlinked data, and with equality and discrimination so high on everyone's agenda, we could surely hope for an equal future, with transparency throughout the job market. But there could be fundamental issues with machines learning from our previous behaviours, which I'll talk about in my next article.
Automation, both within business and in our personal lives, and the resultant time saved is another HUGE positive of IoT. The accuracy and speed of repetitive task completion by machines has already been proved in industrial and agricultural settings. Add to this the insights from every bit of global data and we’re onto something. Time is money, right? And if we can save time and improve quality or consistency at work then margins increase. Happy days. What about the jobs that will be lost? Are we creating enough to fill the plug the gap…? I'll explore this in the next article too.
This only skims the surface of the many advantages to the rapid speed that tech is evolving. There are many, many ways that the IoT will enhance and change our lives for the better, in the same way that we now take for granted extraordinary volumes of information available at our fingertips from our phones, tablets and computers.
But alongside such developments, there are inherent dangers and hurdles to overcome. And I'm worried. Is the power in our hands at all anymore?
Here are some of the things I think we should all worry about.
Social isolation and our health
Clarity of communication and global connectivity will only continue to advance as the IoT connects more and more devices and everyday objects. But will this be at the expense of real, human contact…? Will we become ever more disconnected, introverted and isolated from each other as we ‘live through tech’, despite the ability to communicate via machines and online?
Consider the increasingly ageing, elderly population: many live alone and, for some, their only human contact is with their GP, local corner-shop or a meals-on-wheels delivery. If we assume that food delivery by more of these bots or drones, and healthcare will become the smart-monitoring of our daily habits, bodily functions and general physiological status, then their human interaction may disappear entirely.
Isolation is shown to affect both mental and physical health and ‘the influence of social relationships on the risk of death are comparable with well-established risk factors for mortality such as smoking and alcohol consumption and exceed the influence of other risk factors such as physical inactivity and obesity.’
How will lengthened lifespans, yet reduced social inter