The Big Idea: On CES 2016, the Internet of Things, and an Inconvenient Truth about Really Cool Technology

undefinedIt was only a few weeks ago when the 2016 International CES Conference was unveiling what is believed to be the trends of the year. If you go by what the various vendors were representing at the event, the latest technical gadgets were all promising to keep you connected. This trend is, of course, the Internet of Things. Everything will be connected to the internet. Light bulbs. Pet feeders. Teddy bears. All these gizmos will connect with cyberspace.

This begs a question: Why?

The Internet of Things (IoT) can be summed up with one word: Convenience. Flower pots will water your favorite plant when it is dry. Smart toothbrushes will track how long and how often you brush your teeth, and in turn provide this data to your dentist. The refrigerator will be able to tell you when it is time to buy milk or change the water filter for the ice maker. I, myself, enjoy the convenience of IoT with my Amazon Echo, one of the most successful devices to date. I have “Alexia” (because that is what the Echo is named) connected to the lights in the house so I can say “Alexia, turn on the kitchen lights,” and then add later “Alexia, dim the kitchen lights to 20%.”

When we see all these cool technologies, it is easy to think how many problems are remedied with a breakthrough like IoT. When you solve one problem with technology, though, it easily brings up two more you may not have considered.

One issue I have become acutely aware of—and will, I have no doubt, become more pressing in the future—is standard protocols. In other words, many of the devices of IoT run into issues when “talking” to each other. Alexia, made by Amazon, does not care to converse apparently with my Hue Lights, made by Philips. Beyond my own communication issues, tech companies like QualComm is pushing for protocols like AllSeen and AllJoyn as smart device standards, but then you have Intel and Samsung pushing for Open Interconnect Consortium standards. It’s similar to the BluRay versus Digital HD or VHS versus Betamax; and until industry settles on a standard or that one vendor—in the case of BluRay versus Digital HD, it was Disney sounding the death knell for DHD—deciding on a standard, consumers are held hostage.

TitleAlong with new standards, everything will need to have its place online. This is why IP addresses and the new IP6 matters. Without new internet addresses for all of these things, there will be no IoT. Your refrigerator, your stove, your coffee maker—everything will be on the Internet, and therefore will need its own address.  And while I save it for last, on the reveal of the IoT, analysts warned about this and continue to warn about this: security and privacy. Yes, the IoT does make life incredibly convenient, but how secure are these conveniences? True, you might think the notion of someone in Romania hacking your coffee maker or refrigerator a bit ridiculous. After all what would that accomplish? Savvy hackers will recognize patterns. They can easily conclude that if your low on milk and eggs, you’re heading to the store, leaving your home vulnerable. They can hack into your car and hold it hostage (prevent it from starting, engage the brakes, etc.) until you provide what they want. IoT also offers hackers a ways and means of getting into your home network, and this could easily lead to more important data such as banking and financial histories. So, yes, you need to have security for IoT.

While I do think the IoT is an extremely big idea, I also think it will not actually explode as CES predicts it will until we have these problems addressed, and that was a big discussion alongside all this innovation. Vendors recognize it, but of course they all want their standard to be adopted. This kind of derision usually leads to a big divide. It’s astounding the creativity and cleverness that comes out of the CES, but before diving into the latest gadget, it’s a good idea to know what you are getting into.

That’s the problem with being on the cutting edge of technology, though. You tend to bleed when you get cut.

 


 

shurtz.jpgA research physicist who has become an entrepreneur and educational leader, and an expert on competency-based education, critical thinking in the classroom, curriculum development, and education management, Dr. Richard Shurtz is the president and chief executive officer of Stratfdord University. He has published over 30 technical publications, holds 15 patents, and is host of the weekly radio show, Tech Talk. A noted expert on competency-based education, Dr. Shurtz has conducted numerous workshops and seminars for educators in Jamaica, Egypt, India, and China, and has established academic partnerships in China, India, Sri Lanka, Kurdistan, Malaysia, and Canada.


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