“On the flip side, a smart tea maker that knows just when you’re in need of a cup could be very handy indeed”.
Among its many other cultural and economic assets, Google is accumulating a rather comprehensive record of what is troubling us, from asking the search engine to diagnose our disease symptoms to whether we will ever find true love. It seems only natural, then, to turn to Google to decrypt the latest piece of technical jargon, “the internet of things”.
It is a term that internet users have been peppering the search engine with questions about. But what does it mean for real life?The internet of things (or as it’s also known, IoT) isn’t new: tech companies and pundits have been discussing the idea for decades, and the first internet-connected toaster was unveiled at a conference in 1989.
At its core, IoT is simple: it’s about connecting devices over the internet, letting them talk to us, applications, and each other. The popular, if silly, example is the smart fridge: what if your fridge could tell you it was out of milk, texting you if its internal cameras saw there was none left, or that the carton was past its use-by date?
IoT is more than smart homes and connected appliances, however. It scales up to include smart cities – think of connected traffic signals that monitor utility use, or smart bins that signal when they need to be emptied – and industry, with connected sensors for everything from tracking parts to monitoring crops.
Security experts however argue that not enough is being done to build security and privacy into IoT at these early stages, and to prove their point have hacked a host of devices, from connected baby monitors to automated lighting and smart fridges, as well as city wide systems such as traffic signals. Hackers haven’t, for the most part, put much attention to IoT; there’s likely not enough people using connected appliances for an attack against them to be worth the effort, but as ever, as soon as there’s a financial benefit to hacking smart homes, there will be a cyber criminal working away at it.
So the short answer is yes, IoT is relatively safe: you’re not likely to face serious loss or damage because of your smart things, any more than your home PC, at least. However, there’s no guarantee, and so far not enough is being done to ensure IoT isn’t the next big hacking target. On the flip side, a smart tea maker that knows just when you’re in need of a cuppa could be very handy indeed.
But the internet of things is one of those wider ideas that isn’t dependent on a single project or product. Smart fridges may well be the appliance of the future, or could fall by the wayside as too much tech for too little gain, but the idea of connected sensors and smart devices making decisions without our input will continue.
A decade from now, everything could be connected or perhaps only bits and pieces with specific benefits, such as smart meters; and we may call it IoT, smart devices or not call it anything at all, the way smartphones have simply become phones.
No matter where it is or what we call it, IoT is real – but what it will look like in the future is something even Google can’t answer.