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7 tough questions about the Internet of Things

Posting in Technology
The "Internet of Things" is this year's "it" technology concept, promising a hyper-connected world in which everything is tracked, monitored and analyzed. But it's more than just having your refrigerator tell the cloud you're low on milk -- there's a lot of hard questions that need to be asked as we advance into this brave, new networked world.
Sewing machines - Photo by Alyssa McKendrick.JPG
 Photo: Alyssa McKendrick
 

Andy Oram, writing in O'Reilly Radar, provides a nice overview of a recent IoT Festival held at MIT -- attended by systems developers, security experts, data scientists, and artists from across a spectrum of industries. There are many hurdles to effective implementation of IoT, as discussed at various sessions and panels at the event, but many of the hurdles are social, not technical, Oram says.

Questions that need to be asked as we move into an IoT world include the following:
  • "What effects will all this data collection, and the injection of intelligence into devices, have on privacy and personal autonomy?" This already-burning question in the big data analytics realm regarding personal communications will continue to be an issue.
  • "How much privacy and personal autonomy are we willing to risk to reap the IoT’s potential for improving life, saving resources, and lowering costs?" There will be trade-offs between privacy and smarter networks.
  • "How do we persuade manufacturers to build standard communication protocols into everyday objects?" Industry standards are always problematic, even when eventually smoothed out as time goes by. But that often takes years.
  • "What data do we really want?" Oram observes that in today's big data world, we are already awash in large volumes of data, and enterprises are struggling to identify what nuggets of it are of value. Plus, a lot of the world's data is still locked away and inaccessible, he adds.
  • "How much can we trust the IoT? How much can we take humans out of the loop?" For example, Oram illustrates, we need to ask if we can trust IoT-based controls to autonomously drive our cars, especially if we are moving at 65 miles per hour down a busy highway.
  • What role should governments play in all this? The government provides a lot of crucial IoT data -- such as weather and GPS data. The question is whether government should play an active role in moving IoT along, regulating privacy and setting standards, or if it should "get out of the way of private innovators," says Oram.
  • What impact will the IoT have on jobs, and how can we prepare the workforce? Worker retraining and skills education -- already hot-button issues, will become even hotter.
(Thumbnail photo: Joe McKendrick)

— By on March 4, 2014, 9:12 AM PST

Joe McKendrick

Contributing Editor

Joe McKendrick is an independent analyst who tracks the impact of information technology on management and markets. He is a co-author of the SOA Manifesto and has written for Forbes, ZDNet and Database Trends & Applications. He holds a degree from Temple University. He is based in Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure