The Rise of Internet-of-Things

During the early 1970’s, a man named Vint Cerf, known as the Father of Internet today, was working on a technology that would revolutionize the world as we knew it. This technology was not physical and it could exist only on bulky computing machines. A few years later, Cerf and fellow researchers, Robert Kahn and Donald Davies finally got a breakthrough in their endeavor and designed a protocol to transfer data called Transmission Control Protocol (TCP). TCP was a set of guidelines for data transfer that would make Internet a reality. In a way, they invented the modern Internet. Cerf could never have imagined that 40 years later, Internet would be the backbone of modern society. It would be driven not only by data created by people, but also by data created by things. This data created by things and products we use and the wonderful array of functionality it provides is the driving force behind Internet of Things (IoT).

IoT is a convergence of some of the most amazing technologies of our times. Strong Internet connectivity can be paired with robust electronics and elegant user interfaces to produce devices that will be inherently ‘smarter’. These devices will not only learn from the surroundings and generate tropes of useful data but will give greater control and access to the users.

We now live in world of data, and this data if created by machines and things, can vastly improve the way those things function and the way they are used by us. The Internet of Things has ushered in a new era of generating data driven solutions. Data does not lie, it reveals each and every detail and nuance of the ‘thing’ and it’s working. We can have our car, our home appliances, our locks and our health devices connected to the internet and let it generate data. This data can then be analyzed, manipulated and transferred to look into the finer aspects of its functioning.

As a concept, the Internet of Things is not new. The term was coined in 1999, by British Technology pioneer Kevin Ashton. But we have been able to make it a reality only recently. With the rise of mobile internet penetration, everything that is connected to the internet can now be controlled remotely by the mobile phone.

IoT has brought about a data-driven revolution that has given a major boost to quality improvement and process control especially in the manufacturing sector. With sensor-driven analytics, it is now possible to monitor and control every small aspect of the process in real-time. This real-time supervision and remote control of the required processes saves million of dollars and man-hours. IoT has also made possible the confluence of technology, medicine and internet connectivity. We can now monitor a patient’s heart rate continuously, store and access all data through the internet and even remotely control the heart-rate. Sensors put in roads, bridges, car engines, trains generate humongous amounts of data which ensure highly effective quantitative decisions are made.

The value of Internet connected devices and their future potential can be gauged by the fact that Google, in 2014 bought a smart-device maker called Nest Labs for a huge sum of $3.2 billion and regularly acquires companies involved in smarter home automation. Samsung, Apple, Amazon and every other tech-giant is scurrying to get on the IoT bandwagon and employing R&D teams to develop ‘smart’ products. Internet connected things will not only usher in a new era of mobile-based communication but also enable hard-data driven statistics based analysis.

As far as the IT sector in India is concerned, these are exciting times. Government of India’s Department of Electronics and Information Technology came forward with an IoT policy framework which aimed at creating opportunities worth $15 billion in the IoT vertical by year 2020. Though embracing IoT and its associated technology in India has it’s pros and cons, it is quite motivating to see the government taking some initiative in the fast-paced world of Internet innovation.

But we must not let our strengths and capabilities blind us. If overdone, the Internet of Things can become a classic example of a solution looking for a problem. Light-bulbs, tooth-brushes, locks, coffee-machines, washing machines, clothes, cars and even diapers. Yes, we can put Bluetooth in everything. We can put Wi-Fi in everything and control them with your smart-phone, sitting 10 meters away. But do we really need it? We must ensure that connecting everything to the internet doesn’t make them more complex. Inventors and technology start-ups churning out new Internet connected products every day must accept the fact that their technology will not be ubiquitous and it is crucial they account for that ‘old-school’ person who prefers turning on the light-bulb using his own hands.

Connecting everything to the internet also increases the risk of data-theft and hacking exponentially. Every such smart device will eventually be connected to your mobile phone or your laptop. This gives, to anyone who is trying, multiple pathways to hack into a user’s phone. Privacy is a luxury in today’s age of unprecedented digital connectivity and with everything connected to the Internet, ensuring privacy of the users is becoming a much more complex task. With our homes and appliances being connected to the Internet, users tend to store vast amounts of data on cloud based storage platforms. This data represents, what industry experts call — a data self-portrait. This ensures that every intricate detail about users including their routine, behaviors, trends and patterns and even work-related data is privy to serious data thefts and privacy invasions.

The Internet of Things, or simply put — connecting useful devices to the internet to gain better utility from them is definitely improving our lives in ways we never imagined. It has not only enabled us to make better decisions but also gain deep insights in various processes we wish to monitor. Pros apart, there are numerous concerns which are raised when we go on connecting devices to the internet. Data integrity and user privacy are issues of paramount important and needed to addresses at the drawing-board level itself.