Few doubt that smart mobile devices are the next technological revolution. The next generation of connected appliances is already starting to create the Internet of Things (IoT), and to connect users to their devices in ways that were impossible only a few years ago.
However, in the middle of new conveniences and wonder, the IoT also promises to bring new problems and concerns, some technical, and others social or environmental. So far, most of these new problems and concerns are barely acknowledged, although many are already starting to appear.
When faced with a choice between convenience and security for users, manufacturers almost always choose convenience. Even at this early stage, the Internet of Things is no exception. Already, basic devices such as routers, satellite receivers, network storage and smart TVs are ridiculously easy to hack, and 2015 was marked by the report of the first known successful cracking of a car while it was being operated. Such reports are inevitably greeted with cries of alarm, but, just as inevitably, little is done.
Potentially, the Internet of Things is a wealth of information about those who use it. Smart phones can already be tracked. Imagine, being stalked by government agencies through your smart devices, or your devices being used against you in a court of law. We can expect the Internet of Things to produce dozens of legal precedents and class action suits as countries debate just what rights to privacy the users of smart devices retain and which they forfeit.
Storage of information generated by smart devices will increase the physical demands of Internet Of Things. Much of the data generated by smart devices is needed only briefly to send signals to device, and does not need to be stored. Other data, such as timers for devices, might ordinarily need to be stored for only a week or two at the most. Yet with such information being available, the demand may arise for storing part of this surge of information for longer periods. Consequently, policies will be needed about what kind of information is stored, and for how long, who can access it, and the exceptions that might be made to whatever general policies are devised.
Fifty million tons of e-waste – the disposal of computers, phones, and peripherals are produced each year in the United States alone. As countries like China and India continue to industrialize, and the Internet of Things comes online, the problem is only going to continue. Meanwhile, less than twenty percent of e-waste is recycled, much of the rest continues to be shipped overseas to developing nations where it is salvaged in unsafe working conditions.
Smart devices did not originate e-waste, but, assuming they are built the way that computers are today, with a lifespan of only a few years, they seem likely to double or triple the problem.
The Need for Open Standards
The IoT consists of a lot of individual devices with their own specifications. At this stage, that hardly matters, but a time will arrive soon when further growth will require that smart devices can communicate with each other. Yet, although much of the IoT is likely to be built with open source software, universal standards and protocols lag behind the development of smart technology. The few efforts that exist tend to be specific to a technology, such as Eclipse IoT, and tend to focus on applying existing standards or protocols to smart devices rather than being developed for the new demands of the IoT. Without a greater degree of cooperation, the growth of the IoT is to be slower than it could be.
Expecting the Unexpected
None of these challenges is necessarily a reason to oppose the Internet of Things. Nor is the list necessarily complete. Just as purposes for smart devices will be found that we cannot participate today, so challenges are likely to emerge that we cannot anticipate today