It’s Time to Think About Our Goals for the IoT

Tech journalist Stacey Higginbotham will discuss the risks and benefits of IoT technology at ARM TechCon.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is at a key moment in its history, and the technical community needs to address the goals and risks of the technology, lest it be misused and abused, IoT expert Stacey Higginbotham will tell attendees at ARM TechCon in October.

Higginbotham, an IoT journalist whose work appears in Fortune, MIT Technology Review , Business Week and GigaOm, says that engineers need a better grasp on what they’re trying to achieve with the IoT, and consumers should know its inherent security and privacy risks. “We can’t just let the technology guide us,” Higginbotham told Design News . “We’re shaping the world that we’re about to live in. And we need to think about the social and business impacts as we are developing this technology.”

IoT journalist Stacey Higginbotham: “We can’t just let the technology guide us.” (Source: Stacey Higginbotham)

Higginbotham, who has turned her house into an IoT lab complete with connected appliances, lighting, and security, believes the technology has amazing potential. She sees it being used in the streets, lighting, and sewers of smart cities, as well as on the assembly lines of intelligent factories, and in the homes of billions of consumers worldwide.

At the same time, however, she sees the risks. Fitness devices can provide data on a person’s health and whereabouts. Optical sensors in municipalities can provide information on whether a driver is speeding or a pedestrian is jaywalking. She cites a recent news story about an Ohio man whose heart pacemaker information was used in an arson case. Police forces, she said, see IoT data as a potential source of evidence.

“Right now, especially for consumers, this is a privacy nightmare,” Higginbotham told us. “The only thing that’s going to stand between us and that worst-case scenario is having a government that’s willing to stand up and write regulations.”

At the same time, engineers need to decide what their goals are for IoT technology, she said. The technology is so powerful, sensors are now so inexpensive, and computing power is so ubiquitous that it’s easy to gather mountains of data on virtually anything.

“In my house, I have all these appliances that tell me how much energy I’m consuming, how many calories I’m eating, and how many steps I’m taking,” she said. “But, by itself, that information is almost useless. To make it of value, you have to decide what you’re trying to accomplish.”

Also, manufacturers need to understand how the IoT changes the role of employees. Workers now need to be empowered to use the information from sensors and make decisions based on it. “If your computer alerts you to a problem, and you’ve got a worker who doesn’t have the ability to solve problems, then you’ve accomplished nothing,” Higginbotham said.

Unfortunately, the favorable economics of the IoT will make it almost too easy for misuse and abuse. Low-cost sensors, computing, and storage give users the ability to track virtually anything without regard to whether it should be tracked.

“You can spend millions of dollars automating your factory, but if

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