Imagine being stuck in traffic after a long day at work and just wanting to get home, have a hot shower, and lie on the sofa in front of the TV. Now imagine being able to set everything up so it’s ready to go as soon as you arrive. How would you do so? By means of your smartphone, of course!
With a few taps on your device’s screen, you’ll be able to instruct your home to prepare the hot water for your bath, set the air conditioning to just the right temperature, put the TV on your favorite channel. At the last minute, you also decide that you want a coffee when you arrive. No problem –you’ll find the kettle boiled and ready to go when you get in.
How would all this be possible?
That’s where the so-called 'Internet of Things' comes in. It works on the basic premise that everything linked in to it is “smart” or, in other words, has an internet connection and thus allows for the possibility for them to be manipulated remotely.
Although it may sound like something out of a science fiction novel, the Internet of Things is already here. Think of homes with smart lighting and security systems, or refrigerators that can tell you specifically what you need to stock up on when you’re at the grocery store.
Some smart homes also have the ability to prepare themselves for the arrival of any guests you may be having over in your absence. For instance, you’ll be able to unlock your front door remotely or adjust lighting and heating settings in anticipation of their arrival. Similarly, if you forget to lock your front door on your way out, or forget to turn off the lights, you’ll be able to do this at the touch of a button.
So how much of a reality is this already?
The Internet of Things has become a possibility due to the advancement of computer chips, which are nowadays no thicker than a few strands of hair. As a result, they can be embedded into appliances or devices without disrupting their core functions, thus allowing them to receive instructions and execute them accordingly.
Experts predict that Internet of Things market will be worth some $14 trillion globally by the year 2020, and there will be no less than 50 billion smart devices making it up. These smart devices will range anywhere from medical chips implanted into people to monitor vital signs, to smart appliances in the home, to more complex commercial and industrial applications.
This new industry will purportedly create millions of new jobs that will be required for the development, installation and maintenance of the new systems. Experts also predict that most modern homes will be equipped with such systems within the next decade.
Where else is the Internet of Things applicable?
The applications that smart technology, or the Internet of Things, has are almost limitless. For example, farmers will be able to irrigate their plantations and check toxicity and nutrient levels in the soil remotely, which will save them a lot of trial and error. It will also allow them to look for signs of animals doing their plantations harm, or plant diseases that may have a detrimental impact on their crops.
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Commerce and industry also has the possibility to better keep track of inventory, machine health, and even be alerted to any of the wares that they've sold to consumers malfunctioning and being in need of repair.
Probably the most significant field that the new technology is having an impact on is the medical field. For instance, it’s now a possibility for a tiny chip to be implanted into your body during an operation. This will allow medical practitioners to be alerted to anything that may be going wrong with your health as soon as it begins to occur. Theoretically, such a device can even be programmed to call an ambulance for you in the event that you can’t get to a phone quickly enough.
What are the risks of this new technology?
The scary reality of the modern world is that anything with a chip in it, or that has been programmed, can be hacked into by individuals that have malevolent intent. So, for instance, if you’re the owner of a smart home that gets hacked, you could end up being the victim of a burglar that walks right through your front door.
Similarly, if you own a smart car or have a medical chip implanted into your body, there’s a possibility that they can be interfered with. Imagine if your car gets shut down in the middle of a busy interstate, or someone wants to find out where you are for nefarious purposes such as kidnapping or robbery.
With regard to an implanted chip, there’s a possibility that the way in which it takes readings and gives out alerts becomes tampered with, and thus you won’t get the medical care you need, when you need it, as a result. While alarming, these are most definitely things that need to be considered.
Industry, commerce and infrastructure at large must also never allow themselves get to the point where they get too reliant on these systems for their operations. This is because although machines, automation, and computers can make everything faster, more efficient and less taxing, the stark reality is that these things can and will go wrong, not to mention that people who have bad intentions can interfere with them.
The world is at a point where the metaphorical door is ajar for the Internet of Things. It’s now up to us to consider whether we open it fully and allow the technology to follow the path to ubiquity in our lives. The biggest consideration we all need to make is how far we need to go to ensure that smart systems are as minimally exposed to the possibility of tampering or viruses as possible.