The Internet of Things: Evolving how Humans Interact with Technology

Technology Overview

What it is and How it works:

The Internet of Things is a massive network of modern devices that connect to each other, sharing data about usage and preferences, and making our technological lives better each day. You change the music on your speaker by asking Alexa to play something from your favorite Spotify playlist. You update your thermostat from an app on your phone. Your doorbell alerts you that someone is at the front door. All those devices, all that technology, is now connected via wifi or mobile internet connections and all those interactions net a great deal of data that is both valuable and sensitive. From the smart speaker in your home learning your speech patterns to the internet-connected farm equipment sharing yield data through a cloud-based control system, the Internet of Things has changed the way we interact with technology.

Key features and benefits:

By combining sensors, processing and software, the Internet of Things provides amazing new possibilities for using technology. Smart thermostats can learn usage patterns to maximize efficiency for heating and cooling our homes, saving owners money and reducing the impact on the environment. We can ask a smart speaker a question and get a response as easy as surfing the internet from an actual computer. We can control a vast array of technology from our smartphones or just by using our voice, which used to be pure science fiction only a few short decades ago.

This paves the way for a more accessible future for technology users. For example, blind users can now control more devices with greater ease than ever before. Deaf users can get an alert on their phones when someone rings a smart doorbell. The Internet of Things can make using technology a more level playing field for all users, regardless of ability.

Key Producers:

It’s no surprise that the biggest names in technology are also major players in the Internet of Things.

Google, Amazon, IBM and Microsoft are just a few of the multi-billion dollar industrial giants on the playing field. But there is a growing number of startups and small, agile companies starting make waves in this arena.

Technology In Context

Current Usage:

Most people (97%) living in the United States own a cellphone, with the majority of those phones classified as a smartphone. Those devices come equipped with a host of sensors, a processor more powerful than what NASA used to send people to the moon, and a constant internet connection virtually anywhere in the world. We, as humans, are part of the Internet of Things.

Many modern day appliances, such as TVs, washer/dryers, and microwave ovens are now wifi or internet enabled, adding to the growing number of connected technology in the home. Add to that the ability to control those devices from a smartphone or speaker, we are now interacting with our technology in ways our parents would never have dreamed of.

Many industries, such as health care, are also faced with a burgeoning new field of interconnected devices unique to their field, and are quickly having to adapt their companies to face emerging challenges these new technologies present.

Opportunities for expanded usage:

When the iPhone first hit the market back in 2007, cellphones had many different form factors most of which used traditional buttons and low resolution screens. Shortly after its introduction, all modern cellphones started to conform to the classic candybar form using a touchscreen interface, representing a radical change in the way we interacted with technology. Within a few years, touchscreens became the norm for using modern day devices.

In recent years, voice processing has become a growing standard for commercial Internet of Things technology, with the explosive growth of the smart speaker market. Already poised to combine edge computing and artificial intelligence/machine learning, particularly in smartphones, this branch of connecting with Internet of Things devices shows great promise and opportunities for growth.

New innovations are coming every day, such as Project Soli, a revolutionary new way of interacting with devices. Using a radar sensor and machine learning software, this amazing sensor can detect natural human gestures and translate those movements in 3-dimensional space into control inputs that a computer coupled with a machine learning software can process and interpret.

Essential Requirements for Successful Implementation

For the Internet of Things to continue to grow and evolve, the connections between the technology also need to grow and evolve. Devices connected to the internet by wifi work well in most homes, but fast, reliable internet is not always a given in commercial or rural locations. As the amount of data being shared grows apace to the level of technology, high-speed internet becomes a crucial backbone for the future of this technology. Investing and expanding 5G mobile internet, for example, would be a boon to the growing body of connected devices outside the home.

Additionally, being able to interpret and analyze the large quantities of data produced by the Internet of Things becomes another key factor for successful implementation. Machine learning and artificial intelligence applied to the data help improve how we interact with our devices, as well as how our devices interact with us. Not only in finding trends and patterns in the data, but also learning how we speak in natural language settings, adapting to diverse populations that may have different cultural contexts and terminology, and allowing our devices to begin to interpret meaning and intent are critical components for implementing this technology across the globe.

Ethics & Regulations

Risks:

Like most modern communication networks, the Internet of Things exposes potential security risks associated with large amounts of data, not to mention the devices themselves. Physical hardware risks, such as unsecured webcams, for any connected devices are a major concern for device manufacturers. Unsecure devices provide more ammunition for malicious hackers and greatly expand the risks previously associated with desktop computers a few years ago.

Data security is another major consideration for companies in this space, particularly as the infrastructure becomes more complex. Businesses need to address data security in new ways as the explosive increase in connected devices greatly expands the amount of data being sent over the internet.

Unintended impacts:

As mentioned, the sheer quantity of data now being sent from virtually every device in your home presents new concerns around data privacy and how much control we have (or don’t have) in how that data is used. Analyzing and predicting consumer behavior is a small example of how our data is currently being used. For example, most people accept app permissions for an app, such as social media, unwittingly providing the company with valuable data on their activities and shopping patterns. What’s more, our proximity to another person with a phone also impacts how the data correlates (similar likes, family connections, preferences detailed in social media, interactions with company websites, etc.) providing seemingly prescient ads based on something we may have been thinking about buying in the future.

Relevant regulations

Data privacy and security are the drivers of changing regulations, however it is a slow and often complex process to implement. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe, adopted in 2018, is one of the first broad data privacy laws to address modern data privacy needs. The United States, on the other hand, has a handful of privacy laws aimed at specific sectors in the industry rather than a comprehensive approach, many of those laws being decades old and sorely needing updating to modern standards and needs.

References

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