I believe that the IT industry will, in the future, hold far more responsibility for radical changes to culture and society than ever before. The Internet of Things (IoT) will see humanity take a new foundation on which to build things (the Internet) and start to create architectures and services that fundamentally change the way we live our lives. Just in the past few weeks, I have spoken to entrepreneurs and large businesses that are seeding technological concepts that could, eventually, touch all of us in very meaningful and real ways. It is difficult (especially for a technologist like me) not to get excited about self-driving cars that learn from each other, connected homes that allow us to remotely monitor and control our personal spaces and smart meters that have a profound impact on a nations energy consumption. But, as I have discussed before, there are likely to be unintended consequences to all of these ideas that technologists (even the really clever ones) are likely to miss given the current drive for innovation that is (quite understandably) being encouraged by both the private and the public sector.
Rapid technological development is currently not being matched by research into the societal impact of the Internet of Things. Project efforts today are primarily focused on potential business (or personal) benefits and very little is known about future impact of the technological advancements under development.
At Symantec, our primary concerns with regard to societal impact have to do with personal privacy, trust and the security of systems and information. Interestingly (and with a few exceptions) a great number of the technologies needed to facilitate a trust-worthy and secure IoT already exist. In our own portfolio, for example, we already have the ability to ensure trusted authentication of huge volumes of devices (we currently authenticate over 50 million internet-connected TV’s), to harden and secure critical industrial control systems and to create highly available, “always on” architectures. The issue here is that the “charter” for privacy and security in IoT is not yet agreed (by technology firms, governments or society at large). A great deal of work needs to be done to push this forward and to create working frameworks within which we can all operate and collaborate to create useful and trustworthy solutions that inspire people to do more.
My view… we need to pick some use-cases that are compelling and commercially viable, create privacy “charters” that are acceptable to their potential user groups and go build them. There is a real danger of “analysis paralysis” here (which is nearly as bad as rushing to build massive solutions that are not trustworthy or secure).
Current discussion around the potential of IoT is often very abstract. Let’s mix the skills of technologists with experts in people and society, build some pilots and ensure that these new solutions are “secure by design”. In the Internet of Things, security and privacy must be inherent and not optional features and a “retrofitting” of security to a system with a million connected objects will not be an option in years to come.