For the last five years, commentators have been buzzing about the Internet of Things. But what does that really mean and how could it affect life in the near future?
The Internet of Things (an annoyingly vague term) basically refers to any device that can connect to the internet and to other devices – whether that’s a smart television, a fridge, the engine of a jet plane, or even a lightbulb. As futurist Jacob Morgan wrote on Forbes.com: “The new rule for the future is going to be, ‘anything that can be connected, will be connected.’”
But as people are already constantly connected – and often seeking ways to disconnect – how will the Internet of Things affect life and will it be adopted on a mainstream basis?
Imagine a world where you don’t have to remember when your car is due its annual MOT. With a car that is not only connected to the internet but also with other devices in your life, your car could automatically contact a mechanic to book itself in to be serviced, cross-referencing when you’re free with your calendar and sending you a reminder text to drop the car off to the garage. And as autonomous cars are developed and approved for public use, the car could even take itself off to the mechanic without you having to do anything.
How about an alarm clock that can switch on your coffee machine so that you go into the kitchen to find coffee ready to drink? Or maybe a fridge that automatically adds items to your weekly shopping list as you run out of them? The potential change that Internet of Things devices could bring is endless.
As for the widespread adoption of such technologies, new data from Juniper Research suggests that by 2020 there could be 38 billion smart devices worldwide – a 285 per cent growth in just five years. This is backed up by research from Tata Consultancy Services, which shows that nearly 80 per cent of businesses globally are developing Internet of Things initiatives in a bid to better understand and serve their customers.
However, businesses in the travel, transportation and hospitality sector and in the banking and financial services industry have recognised that is where the benefits will be greatest from greater connectivity and it is companies in these industries that are investing the most money in Internet of Things solutions, research and development.
Suddenly, everything from refrigerators to sprinkler systems are wired and interconnected
However, no matter how great the Internet of Things sounds and how significantly it could impact and improve lives, security and protection of data is a major concern. According to research from HP, 80 per cent of Internet of Things devices are vulnerable to data theft.
“Suddenly, everything from refrigerators to sprinkler systems are wired and interconnected, and while these devices have made life easier, they've also created new attack vectors for hackers,” read the HP study.
While it might not seem a big issue for hackers to be able to access the data that a sprinkler system holds about when your garden needs watering, the bigger issue is the personal data that these kinds of devices also hold – according to the HP study 90 per cent of Internet of Things devices record at least one piece of personal data such as email address.
While the development of smart devices – from refrigerators to alarm clocks to thermostats – might seem like a great idea, the HP study concluded that the reason these vulnerabilities exist is down to manufacturers rushing them out too quickly without considering the consequences. So maybe it’s time manufacturers slowed down to make sure that their products are protecting consumers’ data before releasing them to the market.