Thanks for breaking our connected homes, Amazon.

What the s3 outage taught us about the connected home, cloud computing, and how we can avoid that going forward

More than a few folks got back from lunch today to find that their lightbulbs weren’t working.

They couldn’t play that post-lunch smooth jazz …

Nor could they turn off their …oven.

Or … open their garage.

Amazon’s s3, a cloud-based storage service that powers many gadgets, most of the Internet of Things, and a very large number of websites ….was down.

A fail whale that lands not just online, but … in your home.

This awkward moment was brought to you by the fact that all cloud-based IoT running on top of Amazon depend on both an internet connection as well as operational servers. This debacle could have been avoided if connected devices could run offline, and weren’t dependent on the cloud.

So what’s a cloud-based IoT like?

Right now if you have a cloud-based IoT lightbulb, every time you switch it on, the control hub sends a request to the cloud, gets a response back, and then sends a radio signal to the lightbulb. It travels thousands of miles, sending data around, just to turn on a light that’s a few meters away. That’s the modern equivalent of having to call your electricity provider each time you want to turn your physical lights on or off!

So is everyone with connected lightbulbs somehow run through s3 just … in the dark right now? No cloud. No light. That’s how fragile we’re becoming with all these unnecessary layers of complexity.

A connected home on the cloud quickly evaporates when the cloud goes down.

Having a connected home that runs on a cloud server is akin to having a lock on your door and being forced by a corporation to hand over the key.

What are the chances that this corporation will make it all the way to your house, turn the key and …turn your lights off permanently? The chances are small. But still — you shouldn’t be forced to hand over the keys.

Today’s events definitely opened our eyes to what a dependency on cloud services means to our lives. It showed us how vulnerable we have become.

We’re in the thick of an issue with cloud-based IoT that’s also wildly solvable.

Your IoT services could run on-device, meaning they aren’t reliant on an internet connection, or the cloud. This also allows them to be Private by Design, meaning none of your personal data needs to be sent server side (like your info that flies to Amazon after every query to Alexa…).

Your IoT should be Private by design, running without needing the cloud.

A private-by-design IoT is one that would be much more impervious to cloud issues. More likely to protect you, the user.

A connected home, IoT, your Spotify playlist, your Alexa skills … they SHOULD (and as you might now be realizing, can) be running on-device.

No talking to cloudy servers, just you, your IRL IoT and … a functioning home.

If only there were a team of smart folks working on on-device tech … oh wait.

There is.

It’s us.

Device running Snips are currently working just fine while s3 is down.

This could be you, IoT community!

Right now, while IoT is in its beginnings, there’s a dark schadenfreude to pointing fingers at everyone whose fancy connected home doesn’t work.

But we’re not that far from a future where IoT is more ubiquitous. And therefore, more likely to put us in danger. We’re not far from a future where IoT isn’t just inside fancy connected homes, but inside the infrastructure of our cities, our schools, our highways, our airplanes … you get the picture.

Cloud based locks failed today. But what happens when autonomous cars run their AI in the cloud … and the cloud goes down?

Yes, the s3 outage is a doofy internet blooper. But if we’re not careful about creating a stronger future for IoT, that doofy blooper has the danger of scaling to a larger nightmare.

A stronger future for IoT is one that includes on-device and privacy by design.

Right now IoT is contained to banal household items — lightbulbs, locks, ovens. But imagine a world where IoT and artificial intelligence are more ubiquitous.

Imagine a future where the AI assistants that are integrated in to your cloud-based devices — and into your life — break down. What does that mean to your home? Your family? To you?

The s3 outage today taught us that there are real problems with cloud-based IoT and AI. The future could be dark (literally). But it doesn’t have to be.

The s3 outage likely marked the end of complacency, but the beginning of something better.

Here’s hoping it signals the beginning of innovation. The real beginning of an era of consumer IoT and AI products that think deeply about user privacy, security and lifestyle — products that don’t just work for you, but work with you.

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