Internet of (watching) Things?

  • August 6th, 2019

“YOU ARE BEING WATCHED!” “The government has a secret system – a machine that spies on you, every hour of every day.


“The government has a secret system – a machine that spies on you, every hour of every day. I know, because I built it. I designed the machine to detect acts of terror, but it sees everything … “- says Harold Finch (Michael Emerson) in the opening lines of the American TV Show Person of interestHe seems to not only caution us about machine surveillance but also about the power of Artificial intelligence (AI). As the story unfolds, we witness a war between two machines carried out by humans. This is not the first time concerns about an AI have been raised by creating visions of the future. “The Terminator” showed us what sort of a scenario awaits Earth if an AI were to turn rogue. The movie “Minority Report” showed another aspect of how people can manipulate an AI in their favor to escape punishment.

Today, Internet of Things (IoT), the new face of AI, is booming all across the technological world where people are spending billions for its development and exploring new opportunities using it. For those who are new to the buzz surrounding the Internet of Things, the following people put the point across very simply in Quora

Benson Hougland, vice president at Opto 22, responsible for product evolution, marketing, training, and communications in the TEDx talk paints a beautiful picture of a typical day in the world of IoT.

Given the benefits, every organization wants to ride the IoT wave – IBMSAPMicrosoftInteland Cisco. Google went on a buying spree, purchasing different robotics companies, Amazon deciding it’s time to get into the drone delivery (aka flying robots) business. User friendly robots are coming to hit the market soon.

It’s not just the corporates; Governments want in on the action as well. They are making IoT part of their strategy and are allocating significant budget in this direction, like ‘Smart cities’, ‘Smart Industries’, etc. Some examples are as listed below:

  • British PM David Cameron announced a collaboration between UK and Germany on IoT
  • Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014 announced a $1.2 billion investment to fashion urban centers with sensors that will monitor traffic flows, water and energy usage, and security, and send that information to city officials. The Department of Electronics and Information Technology (DEIT) on 17th Oct 2014 laid out a draft policy on ‘Internet of things’ in India, describing the government’s plan of developing 100 smart cities, for which Rs.7,060 crore has been allocated in the current Central budget. This could lead to a massive and quick expansion

IoT has the potential to touch every domain, and nearly every aspect of human life. These numbers indicate the massive scale of impact IoT is expected to have:

  • 50 billion devices connected to the Internet worldwide by 2020
  • 7 connected devices per person by 2020
  • 8 billion mobile broadband access points by 2019
  • 4.5 million IoT jobs by 2020
  • $14.4 trillion of value over the next decade
  • $97 billion additional revenue in Medical device industry by 2024
  • 70 percent a year growth through 2018 in total sales of clothing and accessories incorporating computer technology, rising from $3 billion today to $42.5 billion
  • $3.3 trillion market for ‘Smart City’ applications and services by 2025

At the core of IoT is the ever – evolving relationship between humans and machines (or things, in general) – a relationship that is being redefined through technology, narrowing the divide between the two.

But, knowing the advantages, I come back to the point where I started … You are being watched, sensed and predicted not just one time but always….!!! The machine can sense, by analyzing all your past moves, your chances in making a particular decision. A small way in which it can destroy you, is that you can be tricked into buying stuff you never wanted. On a large scale, people can only predict how destructive it can be, if left uncontrolled with no rules, guidelines or infrastructure to regulate it. It’s not very far when it becomes a potential weapon for terrorism. The worst case scenario is that we will see the Rise of machines where they are more intelligent than us and they start controlling us.

The Economist has pointed out obvious concerns by some personalities. In a speech in October at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Elon Musk described artificial intelligence (AI) as “summoning the demon”, and the creation of a rival to human intelligence as probably the biggest threat facing the world. He is not alone. The great Stephen Hawking too believes “AI could be a ‘real danger’.

A study from Hewlett-Packard found that 70% of the most commonly used IoT devices contain vulnerabilities – or in other words, they can be hacked!

IoT – a hacker’s delight!

  • “With most [smart devices], if you can connect to it, you can own it.”
    • James Lyne, Head of Security Research at Sophos
  • Computer scientists at the University of Michigan hacked into “smart” traffic lights with nothing more than a laptop and basic radio broadcast equipment.
  • Hackers at the Black Hat security conference compromised a Nest thermostat in front of a live audience
  • BBC recently assembled a team of seven computer security experts and let them loose in a home full of “smart” devices. In short order, they cracked the security on every last one of them. “The one that people really get concerned about is the microphone on a smart TV,” said one expert. “We were able to bug a living room through it.”

IoT – weapons of mass disruption?

  • Wi-Fi pacemaker hack: In the late 2000s, scientists demonstrated a WiFi pacemaker hack with which one could take control of the device. The threat was so deadly (no pun intended), that former US Vice President **** Cheney’s doctors disabled his pacemaker’s wireless capabilities to thwart possible assassination attempts (This was even before the TV series ‘Homeland’ used it as a plot-line).
  • Insulin pump hack delivers fatal dosage over the air: At the Hacker Halted conference in Miami, the attack on wireless insulin pumps was demonstrated. The attack hijacks nearby insulin pumps, enabling the attacker to surreptitiously deliver fatal doses to diabetic patients.
  • Car electronics taken over remotely: The electronics within a car can be hacked, taking control of the headlights, locks, steering and even the brakes.
  • Smart meter hacks: The best case: smart meters can be hacked to cut power bills. The worst case: A criminal who can hack your smart metering utility system can identify when usage drops and assume that means nobody is home.
  • IoT botnet – thingbot: An IoT botnet (or thingbot) is a group of hacked computers, smart appliances and Internet-connected devices that have been co-opted for illicit purposes

Will IoT make our homes the perfect panopticon?

Hackers who could only virtually spy on your computer until recently could now potentially spy on you in your own house! You should be scared of your ‘smart’ TV. With facial recognition, voice recognition built into TVs, the possibility of snooping using the TV is pretty high.

Joseph Steinberg gives you more “reasons to be scared of smart devices at home

IoT: Measures taken in past?

Qualcomm developed a communication protocol for IoT, named AllJoyn, which is currently a collaborative open source project of the AllSeen Alliance. Open interconnect consortium is an alliance founded by Intel, Samsung and Broadcom defining its own connectivity and interoperability standards for IoT. Similarly, there are several other protocols that have been implemented.

IoT: A baby step towards Technological Singularity?

Technological Singularity is a term used to describe the theoretical moment in time when artificial intelligence matches and then exceeds human intelligence. The term was popularized by sci-fi writer Vernor Vinge, but full credit goes to the mathematician John von Neumann, who spoke of [in the words of Stanislaw Ulam] “ever accelerating progress of technology and changes in the mode of human life, which gives the appearance of approaching some essential singularity in the history of the race beyond which human affairs, as we know them, could not continue.”

The question which arises is “Can the evolution of machines overtake the evolution of humans, its creator?”

Now, I guess it is too early to say if the Internet of Things would create a technological Utopia or Dystopia. But it’s not too late to take the right steps in the right direction.