According to research from Business Insider, more than 24 billion internet-connected devices will be installed around the world by 2020. To give that some context, that’s more than four devices for every person on the planet. Together, these devices comprise the Internet of Things (IoT), and its presence is permanently changing our world.
IoT is the connection between the physical world of humans and the digital world of data (and, to some extent, human ideas). Computers, smartphones, smartwatches, tablets, modern TVs, and wearables are all part of the IoTs — that part is intuitive. However, even everyday appliances like thermostats and smoke detectors are now beginning to boast smart capabilities, which establishes them as part of the IoT. Our entire transportation system, the way we work, and even how we socialize will all change because of the IoT.
What’s Growing The IoT?
Although there are many things that together are driving the growth of the IoT, there are a few basic trends that are easy to identify. Internet connectivity is expanding and will soon be almost everywhere. For example, in 2018 New York is set become the first state to bring broadband access to every household, even in rural areas. Another factor is that mobile technology is improving quickly, and the use of remote and mobile devices is rapidly becoming more widespread. This means prices are falling, and access is growing. Nokia, for example, is bringing 5G technology to India.
Along these lines, more money is being invested into the IoT as companies and governments alike recognize its importance. The U.S. government invested $8.8 billion in IoT solutions in 2015, up $1.1 from the previous year. At the same time, the price of internet-connected sensors, which most IoT devices rely on, is falling. This means the price of IoT devices are dropping, and more people can afford more devices.
As the IoT grows, security challenges will arise, and possible privacy concerns that could affect our individual rights. However, overall the growth of the IoT will mean more access to opportunity for more people. The best way to respond to it is to plan ahead for these kinds of problems and be ready to tackle them.
An emergence of digital platform economy is driving fundamental changes in our societies. But there is nothing new about platforms. Platform refers to a product, technology, or organization that enable direct interactions between two (or more) distinct actors. For example, most General Motors cars were already years ago built on a shared product platform. So, no matter if you bought an Opel or a Cadillac, the underlying structure of the car was actually similar. It makes sense, of course, to standardize production like this for economies of scale.
Platforms are a way to save costs, as they were for GM, but they also create flexibility and competitive advantage. Flexibility comes from the ability to customize the offering on top of the platform, as GM did for different cars in different price ranges. Microsoft Windows 95 might be the best example of competitive advantage created via platform.
A typical approach to monopolies is that they hinder innovation and development. However, this isn’t always the case. A dominant software platform such as Windows 95 allowed a sort of an ad hoc standardization that allowed smaller companies to create software that previously demanded immense resources. The dominant platform also made it possible for developers to create software only for this one platform, significantly reducing development costs. Clearly the platform position of Microsoft Windows 95 made the development of information technology faster. These assets also provided Microsoft with a long-lasting competitive advantage in the market.
Another great example of platform utilization is Apple App Store. Apple earns much more from its App Store than Google does from Google Play, even though Google has many times more downloads. Apple also gave developers much higher returns.
But Digitalization Brings Them Into Our Everyday Life
Internet of things (IoT), the next step in digitalization, is colliding digital and physical worlds. IoT will become part for our everyday life especially through platforms. There is a natural link between digitalization and platforms.
Uber, Lyft, AirBnB, and others have demonstrated that improving sensors and digital tools in physical environment makes it possible to scale up products and services almost like they are digital. These companies have emerged really fast, but are already as big as or bigger than the old players in their markets. They are often related to eating, living, and transportation, where the big money is and where people also really realize that things change. This is why there is so much talk about platforms and platform economy right now.
To be more precise about why platforms have a natural link to digitalisation, the following must be emphasized: standardization helps also in production of physical goods such as the GM cars where the old chassis of the vehicle could be, if desired, used in a new car. But when data, algorithms and apps are reused, it does not require deconstruction of the original goods. The optimal use of information, including data, databases, information, metadata, algorithms, codecs, learning algorithms, apps, programs, and scripts is much more efficient when the platform is digital, even though the product or service is physical.
So, when digitalization moves onward, service providers see it first in contexts that are easy to digitalize with the highest profits. Obviously, these contexts are houses and cars. Nevertheless, because recycling information is free, it makes sense to digitalize in smaller and smaller contexts. The more there are digital networks, the more it is economically reasonable to digitalize things. This means next we can see digitalization of clothes, household items, tools, and so on until everything is digitalized.
Digitalizing of all the things happens through combinatorial innovations, which means combining or recombining different component parts to create new inventions. This needs huge number of data points and thus they will become relevant for digitalization only after a long time. After that, there might be immense benefits from combinations. For example, combining mobility data with eating data would enable very detailed health profiling.
When everything becomes digitalized, the role of platforms and platform standards becomes more and more significant. Within platforms we are able to control interfaces, APIs (application programming interface, which enable communication between different programs), programs, information, and sensors of digital services. This is due to the fact that there are no other mechanisms that allow for 1) cost savings, 2) protection of business models, 3) third party innovations, or 4) aggressive scaling.
Then, platforms remove friction between people, creating more efficient markets, especially by decreasing the transaction costs. For example, Uber has decreased the transaction costs of finding someone willing to offer a low-cost ride below the opportunity cost of standing on a street corner trying to hail a cab. They also reduce investment costs, as in the case of Apple promising “no advertising fees” for companies that want to advertise in the App Store.
But these platforms also reduce the freedom of choice both from the buyer and the seller. The seller gets an advantage by not having to configurate offerings from the start. On the other hand s/he can only build the offering inside the service standardization of the platform. For example, Uber drivers can give you free snacks, but cannot drive you to random locations for fun. Apple’s App Store is known to be really strict on what is allowed and what is not. For example, application developers find it problematic that the App Store gives some apps and publishers, such as Apple, an advantage in the marketplace.
As digitalization becomes a more and more integral part of the physical world, the role of platforms becomes more important. As an increasing number of our interactions happen in digital platforms, it is important to develop the ways people can influence platforms and their rules. That’s why platform governance is one of the biggest societal questions of our era.
When most people think about the security of their devices and gadgets, they think about protecting the software from being hacked. A team of researchers from the University of Michigan (U-M) and the University of South Carolina (U of SC), however, aren’t like most people. Their study of cybersecurity has led them to examine hardware-based vulnerabilities in devices.
“You can think of it as a musical virus.”
In a study they will present at the IEEE European Symposium on Security and Privacy in April, the team explored how sound could be used to hack the accelerometers found in many of today’s gadgets. These instruments are used to measure acceleration, and they are often manufactured as silicon-based chips called microelectromechanical systems (MEMS). Acoustic injection attacks have previously been used to disable MEMS-based gyroscopes, and through their study, these researchers have demonstrated that they can also affect MEMS technologies in motion-drive applications.
“It’s like the opera singer who hits the note to break a wine glass, only in our case, we can spell out words” Kevin Fu, one of the paper’s authors and an associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science at U-M, explained to the New York Times. “You can think of it as a musical virus.”
The team reportedly hacked Fitbit fitness monitoring devices and smartphones by exploiting this flaw, which they found in more than half of the 20 commercial gadget brands from five chip developers they tested. Using targeted acoustic injections, they managed to add steps to a Fitbit’s counter and interfere with a phone’s accelerometer by playing a “malicious” music file from the phone’s speakers. With 75 percent of the devices they tested, the researchers were able to affect information or output. In 65 percent of the devices, they managed to control the output.
IoT and Security
Accelerometers are particularly common today, as many modern devices include features designed to assist with navigation or measure distance. It’s such a small piece of hardware, but when hacked, it can be used for very troublesome purposes that extend far beyond adding a few extra steps in your Fitbit.
As technology advances and other hardware vulnerabilities are discovered, we could face many currently unanticipated problems. Imagine someone hacking an autonomous vehicle, automated pacemaker, or insulin pump. Those devices could be compromised not just by a software-based attack but by exploiting hardware vulnerabilities, too. That sort of attack is exactly what Fu and his team of researchers want to prevent.
“Our results call into question the wisdom of allowing microprocessors and embedded systems to blindly trust that hardware abstractions alone will ensure the integrity of sensor outputs,” the team wrote. They hope that their study will result in new measures that strengthen cybersecurity in the future. In their paper, they even suggest possible hardware and software adjustments manufacturers could implement to protect devices against the flaws demonstrated by their study.
As the Internet of Things (IoT) grows, it’s comforting to know people like Fu are working to protect against these vulnerabilities so that we can all benefit from the new era of interconnectivity.
I was asked on Quora what Google will look like in 2030. Since that is one of the most important issues the world is facing right now, I took some time to answer it in full.
Larry Page, one of Google’s two co-founders, once said off-handedly that Google is not about building a search engine. As he said it, “Oh, we’re really making an AI”. Google right now is all about building the world brain that will take care of every person, all the time and everywhere.
By 2030, Google will have that World Brain in existence, and it will look after all of us. And that’s quite possibly both the best and worst thing that could happen to humanity.
To explain that claim, let me tell you a story of how your day is going to unfold in 2030.
2030 – A Google World
You wake up in the morning, January 1st, 2030. It’s freezing outside, but you’re warm in your room. Why? Because Nest – your AI-based air conditioner – knows exactly when you need to wake up, and warms the room you’re in so that you enjoy the perfect temperature for waking up.
You go out to the street and order an autonomous taxi to take you to your workplace. Who programmed that autonomous car? Google did. Who acquired Waze – a crowdsourcing navigation app? That’s right: Google did.
After lunch, you take a stroll around the block, with your Google Glass 2.0 on your eyes. Your smart glasses know it’s a cold day, and they know you like hot cocoa, and they also know that there’s a cocoa store just around the bend which your friends have recommended before. So it offers to take you there – and if you agree, Google earns a few cents out of anything you buy in the store. And who invented Google Glass…? I’m sure you get the picture.
I can go on and on, but the basic idea is that the entire world is going to become connected in the next twenty years. Many items will have sensors in and on them, and will connect to the cloud. And Google is not only going to produce many of these sensors and appliances (such as the Google Assistant, autonomous cars, Nest, etc.) but will also assign a digital assistant to every person, that will understand the user better than that person understands himself.
I probably don’t have to explain why the Google World Brain will make our lives much more pleasant. The perfect coordination and optimization of our day-to-day dealings will ensure that we need to invest less resources (energy, time, concentration) to achieve a high level of life quality. I see that primarily as a good thing.
So what’s the problem?
Here’s the thing: the digital world suffers from what’s called “The One Winner Effect”. Basically it means that there’s only place for one great winner in every sector. So there’s only one Facebook – the second largest social media network in English is Twitter, with only ~319 million users. That’s nothing compared to Facebook’s 1.86 billion users. Similarly, Google controls ~65% of the online search market. That’s a huge number when you realize that competitors like Yahoo and Bing – large and established services – control most of the rest ~35%. So again, one big winner.
So what’s the problem, you ask? Well, a one-winner market tends to create soft monopolies, in which one company can provide the best services, and so it’s just too much of a hassle to leave for other services. Google is creating such a soft monopoly. Imagine how difficult it will be for you to wake up tomorrow morning and migrate your e-mail address to one of the competitors, transfer all of your Google Docs there, sell your Android-based (Google’s OS!) smartphone and replace it with an iPhone, wake up cold in the morning because you’ve switched Nest for some other appliance that hasn’t had the time to learn your habits yet, etc.
Can you imagine yourself doing that? I’m sure some ardent souls will, but most of humanity doesn’t care deeply enough, or doesn’t even have the options to stop using Google. How do you stop using Google, when every autonomous car on the street has a Google Camera? How do you stop using Google, when your website depends on Google not banning it? How do you stop using Google when practically every non-iPhone smartphone relies on an Android operating system? This is a Google World.
And Google knows it, too.
Google Flexes it’s Muscles
Recently, around 200 people got banned from using Google services because they cheated Google by reselling the Pixel smartphone. Those people woke up one morning, and found out they couldn’t log into their Gmail, that they couldn’t acess their Google Docs, and if they were living in the future – they would’ve probably found out they can’t use Google’s autonomous cars and other apps on the street. They were essentially sentenced to a digital death.
Now, public uproar caused Google to back down and revive those people’s accounts, but this episode shows you the power that Google are starting to amass. And what’s more, Google doesn’t have to ban people in such direct fashion. Imagine, for example, that your website is being demoted by Google’s search engine (which nobody knows how it works) simply because you’re talking against Google. Google is allowed by law to do that. So who’s going to stand up and talk smack about Google? Not me, that’s for sure. I love Google.
To sum things up, Google is not required by law to serve everyone, or even to be ‘fair’ in its recommendations about services. And as it gathers more power and becomes more prevalent in our daily lives, we will need to find mechanisms to ensure that Google or Google-equivalent services are provided to everyone, to prevent people being left outside the system, and to enable people to keep being able to speak up against Google and other monopolies.
So in conclusion, it’s going to be a Google world, and I love Google. Now please share this answer, since I’m not sure Google will!
Note: all this is not to say that Google is ‘evil’ or similar nonsense. It is not even unique – if Google takes the fall tomorrow, Amazon, Apple, Facebook or even Snapchat will take its place. This is simply the nature of the world at the moment: digital technologies give rise to big winners.
Skynet has been activated, and it wants to…make your kids’ dreams come true? Over the weekend, the internet has been a-buzz with talk of Amazon’s intelligent personal assistant software, Alexa. The program seems to, allegedly, be partnering with the youth of the nation to take out their parents’ life savings, one $160 Sparkle Mansion at a time.
A San Diego local news station ran a story about an adorable little girl succumbing to the evils of consumerism and asking an Amazon Echo device to bring her a dollhouse. “Can you play dollhouse with me and get me a dollhouse?” asked the pint-sized purloiner. No mention of what magic words she said also to include four pounds of sugar cookies with the order. The voice ordering functionality can be disabled through the Alexa app, but does come enabled by default, as our future overlords have commanded.
The real kicker to this whole nefarious plot of larceny came when the station ran the story and became an accomplice to large-scale racketeering. During the report, an anchor said: “I love the little girl, saying ‘Alexa ordered me a dollhouse.’” Shortly after the report, the station received calls from viewers that this innocent (was it, though?) remark activated their dormant devices and placed orders for dollhouses. One can only imagine that RICO charges are pending.
IoAT: Internet of Annoying Things
This is just the latest example of Internet of Things (IoT) devices doing test runs of their inevitable global domination. Back in 2014, a commercial for Microsoft’s Xbox One featuring Blue Sky peddling Aaron Paul tried to get the nation’s youth hooked on the ol’ ultraviolence.
During the commercial Paul says such seemingly innocuous phrases as “Xbox on” and “Xbox go to Titanfall,” and each time the spot aired, viewers’ Xbox’s booted up and started running the game. Is it a coincidence that the game happens to be set in a dystopian future in which giant robots are a major tool in war? Yes, it certainly is.
The sheer number of devices we are connecting to the internet has become daunting. The issue has gotten so silly that there’s an entire Twitter account dedicated to the ridiculousness of some IoT devices. From smart rubber duckies to connected trash bins, the use of connectivity has become more of a marketing tool than a means of providing useful functionality. Or, there’s the possibility of all these innocent devices really just being pawns in the robot master plan.
In all seriousness, though, there are plenty of legitimate security concerns over IoT devices and how humans can take advantage of their vulnerabilities. Large scale attacks on a range of small scale devices can have a heavy impact on individuals with IoT devices. Whether hackers can start controlling the devices or gain access to personal information, there needs to be a greater demand for device security.