The Internet of Things, the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Perhaps some of the readers will remember the Sierra Economic and Science Foundation’s TechForum2012 when Rick Hutley, Cisco’s VP of Global Innovations Practice spoke on how technology will shape our future, with everything in our home and office networked together.  It was an insightful view into the network world that will soon be upon us in 2014 and beyond.

The Good:

One of the themes of the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show is the Internet of Things. The Internet of Things, or IoT for short, refers to uniquely identifiable objects in a network structure. The geeks at CES were shown networks connected to furniture, tooth bushes, crockpots and baby diapers to name just a few thing you might have around the house.

John Chambers, Cisco CEO, in his CES presentation thinks your garbage can should be connected to the Internet.  According to Chambers making garbage cans smart is a $10 billion business opportunity. Chambers said that the way most cities collect garbage today makes no sense. With sensors in garbage cans, usage-based pricing and even pickups can be made more efficient, thus more economical. You garbage can calls for a pick up when it is full.

However, $10 billion for smart garbage cans maybe just small change compared to the total market for connected things.  Chambers estimates the impact of the Internet of Things will be five to ten times that of what the whole cost of the Internet to date. It’s a market that Cisco estimates will be worth $19 trillion. That figure Chambers said gets the most attention from business leaders and even governments. The public sector alone stands to gain $4.6 trillion from the Internet of Things as civic services get connected and get smart, estimates Chambers.

“It is the ability to bring it all together that will cause this transition to be bigger than anything that has ever happened in tech before,” Chambers said.

There was more Internet of Things news this month that did not come from CES. Stephan Wolfram announced that Wolfram is working with the Raspberry Pi Foundation to release a pilot version of Wolfram Language on the Raspberry Pi. The Raspberry Pi a small inexpensive ( <$40.00) ARM microprocessor on a circuit board with multiple ports, HDMI, NTSC, USB, Ethernet and 26 pin general purpose input-output interface.  This pack of cards size processor can be embedded in about anything, and connected to the IoT with Wolfram software.

Wolfram wrote that his large-scale plan is to use the technology his company is building to inject sophisticated computation and knowledge into everything. The latest version of the Raspberry Pi NOOBS release now includes a pilot release of the Wolfram Language—as well as Mathematica. Quite soon the Wolfram Language is going to start showing up in lots of places, notably on the web and in the cloud, according to Wolfram.

What will be done with the millions of instances of the Wolfram Language that are bundled on Raspberry Pi computers around the world? Maybe some amazing and incredibly important invention will be made with them. Maybe some kid somewhere will be inspired, and will go on to change the world.

At CES Intel announced the Edison Processor with WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity the size of an SD Card, which will have the Wolfram Language and Mathematica baked in when it is released to the market.

Elsewhere over 300 companies have joined the Zigbee Alliance which is promoting the first open standard for an IPv6-based full wireless mesh networking solution and provides seamless Internet connections to control low-power, low-cost devices. It connects dozens of the different devices into a single control network, by detecting the mere presence of the devices.

The Bad:

Your smart meter has a Zigbee chip in it that operates in the WiFi frequency band. If you bought into PG&E’s offer of a new thermostat for your AC system, you have a Zigbee chip onboard that talks to your smart meter. If you recently bought an electric water heater it also has an embedded chip, same for your power hungry big screen TV and new dishwasher.  These devices and appliances also can talk to the PG&E SmartMeter. When a Zigbee chip is powered up it looks for other powered up devices and creates a network.

Not only can these chips monitor your use, but they can be used to control your appliances in an electrical grid emergency, i.e. the there is not enough green power to sustain the grid and back up fossil fuel generated power is not available on the grid, PG&E can turn off your appliances.  But, that is only the bad, the ugly is still ahead.

The Ugly:

NSA has demonstrated that they can monitor any activity that is on the Internet. If all your appliances, entertainment systems, and things are on part of the Internet of Things, then government agencies can access your life. With the Internet of Things the technical geeks in Government can monitor the programs that you watch, they can turn on your security systems and monitor your activities as you move about the home or office.  They can tell when you are sleeping, when your are awake and when you open the refrigerator for a late night snack.  If it is not the government monitoring our lives,  it might be some hacker or geeky son-in-law that you have had some issues with.  There are some issues that need to be resolved to keep the Internet of Thinks secure from third party monitoring.

While the Internet of Things can make our lives more efficient, it has the potential to make our life a nightmare that we cannot escape.

Are you looking forward to the Internet of Things?

About Russ Steele

Freelance writer and climate change blogger. Russ spent twenty years in the Air Force as a navigator specializing in electronics warfare and digital systems. After his service he was employed for sixteen years as concept developer for TRW, an aerospace and automotive company, and then was CEO of a non-profit Internet provider for 18 months. Russ's articles have appeared in Comstock's Business, Capitol Journal, Trailer Life, Monitoring Times, and Idaho Magazine.
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2 Responses to The Internet of Things, the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

  1. The razor blades of IoT will be the tiny and cheap gadgets that will comprise the eyes, ears, nose, hands, and feet of the the things they are attached to – in techie talk, the sensors, effectors, and transducers. Without those the little processors that attach to the things are blind and paralyzed. The development and manufacture of those gizmos will be where the money will be made since it is these things that enable the IoT to do its things (good and bad).


  2. Sean says:

    An article today in the SacBee covers the real reason utilities wanted smart meters. They want to start charging customers based on time of use. In a connected world, the information flows both ways, not to turn the power off, but to turn the price up.


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