Saturday, January 25, 2014

Internet of Things: What Strange Things Can Happen

It was about 6 years back, by when we have started to see WiFi enabled digital cameras and we were wondering what this has to do in a digital camera. But with that, the digital cameras were able to upload the captured images automatically to the cloud based photo albums. Later came in GPS equiped digital cameras, which attaches the location to the captured images. Of course, with smart phones equiped with higher resolution cameras, the digital cameras are on the downfall. That is just a well known example of how a 'thing' or a smart thing can connect to a network and share useful data for a purpose. So much have evolved since then and we now see a world of possibilities to have all the 'things' connected.

Researchers see a lot of benefits by making things smart and inter-connecting them. The networking technologies are also evolving at a brisk pace, offering various improvements over the wireless technologies and protocols. We can see this trend advancing further and may mature in about two decades from now. Looking further, in line with my blog on Human Interface Technology, even humans can remain connected, and that will render human disabilities a thing of the past century.

If you followed this year’s CES, it is evident that the future is all about connected devices. We could see everyday devices equipped with sensors and connectivity to work together, understand what we’re doing, and operate automatically to make our lives easier. Here are some of real world examples of Internet of Things:

A smart refrigerator that can read the embedded tags on the grocery items that are stored in it and then using the supported backend platform on the cloud, identify the items and fetch its details as to date of manufacture, expiry date, quantity, etc. Thus the fridge may alert the consumers about the state and stock of such items. With the kind of wearable gadgets that we see now, these alerts can be through such devices too. It is left to your imagination to what extent this smart capability can be extended.

Medical and emergency care is another area where the smart 'things' play a very useful and life saving role. For instance, a connected car can call emergency services faster than a mobile phone. Again, with the help of embedded or worn smart gadgets, the hospital can get to know the patient history as the patient gets into the hospital and can get ready for the emergency services thereby saving precious time, which can be life saving. Check out this interesting video. Check out this video that IBM has made out describing how it is growing fast and could invade into the everyday life of human beings.

Extending this further to the daily routines of a business executive, the possibilities are endless and here are some that are close to reality, if not already real:

  • Your smartphone once it hears a hint about a meeting in a conversation, it will in the background look up your calendar and will pass on the busy / free information. If the executive uses a glass, then he would be seeing the schedule as he talks and thus facilitates the scheduling of the meetings.
  • The smart alarms will be smart enough to consider information as to what time did go for sleep, the schedule (both personal and official) for the following day and thus will intelligently decide the wake up time in the morning and triggers the alarm.
  • Depending on the traffic conditions, your car will intelligently suggest alternate routes to reach the office or such other scheduled meeting venue and if needed, automatically inform the meeting organizers about the possible delay or may seek rescheduling of the meeting.
  • As you drive back home, you just remember that you need to pickup some drugs from a drugstore. Your smart car will already know this and will identify a store that stocks the drugs that you need and that is on the route or closer to the route that you drive. It can even place the order with the store and let the store keep your items ready for delivery and you just need to pick up enroute.
  • Needless to say, your car will be smart enough to perform a health diagnostics of itself and will decide on a best date for its own garage visit so that your schedules are not impacted.
  • These smart things will know about your presence and which device is in touch with you to send out alerts. For example, if you are at home watching TV, you may see your TV showing alerts from your washing machine and similarly, when you are at work, your smartphone would be used to show these notifications.
  • Here are some more ways the 'Internet of Things' can impact your daily life.

Coming back to the household, you are watching your favorite action movie with surround sound and you did not changed your smartphone from a silent mode back to a ringing profile. You don't have to worry, your smartphone knows what you are upto and over a period would have learnt by itself, as to which of the calls you would want to answer at this situation and accordingly either rejects the call by answering the caller appropriately. If it is an important call that you would n't want to miss, it knows it already and will tone down the TV audio volume and thus draws your attention to the call and you don't have to reach out to your phone, your TV will take over the call from your smartphone. To extend this further, depending on the profiles of other members at the house, which the house already knows through its sensors and networks, your smart phone will decide whether to route the call on to the TV or not.

We can now visualize the possibilities and it is endless. The smart things will have built in learning capability and will keep learning from its master's behavior to perfect its services. This trend will lead us to a situation where the things might by themselves or under the influence of hackers attempt to take over human beings as portrayed in some of the recent science fiction movies. On top of this, hackers will also be leveraging these smart abilities to hack into these connected networks and could do whatever they have been doing with the connected systems now.

Here is how the hackers can intrude into your digital lifestyle:

  • We have already seen reports of a smart refrigerators sending out spam emails.
  • By hacking into your house network, hackers may get to know how many members are home or if there are none inside the home, which information will be useful for them to plan their burglary attempts, etc.
  • Your TV may refuse to play your favorite channel and will rather play content that the hackers prefer you to watch.
  • Your car may drive to a place that is different than where you wanted to visit. On the same lines, hackers can execute traffic diversions and cause traffic jams as portrayed in the movie Die Hard 4
  • All your orders for home supplies may be hacked and deliveries may happen elsewhere, while you would have paid for it. And of course, your house network will still acknowledge for having received the deliveries, while it is not actually.
  • The impact of hacking into the emergency service network could be huge and life threatening.
  • Your smartphone can be hacked to refuse critical business calls and thus causing revenue impact to your organization.

IDC anticipates that more than 200 billion connected devices will be in use by 2021, with more than 30 billion being autonomous devices. Cisco’s Internet Business Solutions Group (IBSG) predicts some 25 billion devices will be connected by 2015, and 50 billion by 2020. How will having lots of things connected change everything? Find the answer in the infographic. With all this, Internet of Things is coming and will be here to stay soon. Whether we, the humans are ready to take on this evolution remains to be seen.

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