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What is the Internet of Things?
Among the various lockdown viewing options offered by Netflix is
a series of animated short stories called “Love, Death and
Robots”, which span a breath of genres, from comedy, horror to
Sci-Fi and fantasy. The second series features one called
“Automated Customer Service” – a darkly comedic
episode, which imagines a dystopian future where virtually all
human roles, from housekeeping and gardening to lifeguards, have
been replaced by artificial intelligence. This episode demonstrates
the danger of such dependency on robots (and inept automated
customer services), when a hapless householder triggers
“intruder” mode in her housekeeping robot, leading to a
murderous chase. Away from the cautionary tales of AI, this
animated short neatly encapsulates the Internet of Things (IoT)
– a series of interconnected objects embedded with sensors
and software, each communicating with others over the Internet,
relaying and reacting to continually changing information. So much
of IOT will already be familiar to us, from smart sensors in our
homes (such as Samsung’s SmartThings), allowing us to remotely
adjust the thermostat and check who is at the door, to the wearable
tech which is continually monitoring our every heartbeat and
IOT describes a series of objects, connected over Wi-Fi in a
closed network, generating and sharing data, in an increasing
connected world. A huge network of interconnected
“things”. One of the most famous examples is Amazon’s
Alexa, a cloud based voice activated, virtual assistant, capable of
playing your favourite album, giving you weather and news updates,
ordering your groceries and controlling your “smart”
home. The interconnectedness of the smart home can go even further
– to a fridge which can control the stock levels (alongside
an oven which relays which produce has been cooked and when, a
smart kettle and toaster) and sense the “use by dates” of
the produce in it (and potentially order in more), to one which
monitors and regulates the levels of natural and artificial light
in each room, according to the wishes of the occupants.
Away from residential use, IOT is transforming the industrial
landscape as smart sensors on production lines, feedback everything
from the speed of assembly to temperature, whilst the wireless
inventory tracks the stock levels of components and allows
manufacturers to slim wastage and increase the efficiency of
production in these smart factories. One study found 35% of
manufacturers in the USA had already adopted smart sensors on their
production lines1. Smart farms are using autonomous farm
equipment, such as drones to spray and harvest crops, whilst
sensors are deployed to monitor everything from soil pH to humidity
levels. These tools allow farmers a holistic view of what is
happening on the farm and the growing conditions their crops are
experiencing, permitting strategic decision making, without ever
having to venture into the fields.
The prediction for the future appears to be “anything
that can be connected will be”2 but with it
comes a huge challenge to the privacy of those caught in this
inter-connected digital world. There are clear and obvious issues
with tracking and monitoring everything, from where someone goes to
their biometric data – in essence, creating a modern-era
panopticon, where everyone is under some form of surveillance.
Security also remains one of the foremost challenges to the ever
Anything connected to a network is vulnerable to being hacked.
While the killer robot of Love, Death and Robots, seems
far-fetched, more plausible scenarios including hackers accessing
smart systems to gain data, including sensitive personal data,
generated by them. More mundane issues with IOT include a lack of
interoperability and variation of the common technical standards,
meaning a lack of integration between different technical
ecosystems and the sheer (potentially unsustainable) amount of
energy required to power them.
Either way, the IOT is here to stay.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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