The Internet of Things is coming. And the tech cognoscenti aren’t sure that’s a good thing.
For years, the prospect of an online world that extends beyond computers, phones, and tablets and into wearables, thermostats, and other devices has generated plenty of excitement and activity. But now, some of the brightest tech minds are expressing some doubts about the potential impact on everything from security and privacy to human dignity and social inequality.
That’s the conclusion of a new survey from the Pew Research Center. For ten years, the Washington, D.C. think tank has surveyed thousands of technology experts–like founding father Vint Cerf and Microsoft social media scholar danah boyd–about the future of the Internet. But while previous editions have mostly expressed optimism, this year people started expressing more concern. “We had a lot of warnings, a lot of people pushing back,” says Janna Anderson, co-author of the report.
The Internet of Broken Things
The 1,606 respondents said they saw many potential benefits to the Internet of Things. New voice- and gesture-based interfaces could make computers easier to use. Medical devices and health monitoring services could help prevent and treat diseases. Environmental sensors could detect pollution. Salesforce.com chief scientist JP Rangaswami said that improved logistics and planning systems could reduce waste.
But most of the experts warned of downsides as well. Security was one of the most immediate concerns. “Most of the devices exposed on the internet will be vulnerable,” wrote Jerry Michalski, founder of the think tank REX. “They will also be prone to unintended consequences: they will do things nobody designed for beforehand, most of which will be undesirable.”
We’ve already seen security camera DVRs hacked to mine bitcoins as well as a worm that targets internet connected devices like home routers. As more devices come online, we can expect to see an increase in this kind of attack.
Beyond security concerns, there’s the threat of building a world that may be too complex for our own good. If you think error messages and applications crashes are a problem now, just wait until the web is embedded in everything from your car to your sneakers. Like the VCR that forever blinks 12:00, many of the technologies built into the devices of the future may never be used properly. “We will live in a world where many things won’t work and nobody will know how to fix them,” wrote Howard Rheingold. Read the rest of this entry »