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A Gently Brutal Introduction to IoT

IoT definition: A network of internet connected objects that are able to collect and exchange data.

Wow, is that all? Yes and no, let me explain.

M2M (machine to machine) and telemetrics have gone to buzzword heaven along with lol and on fleek (RIP in pieces). All the cool kids are now using words like IoT and connected in their quest to automate the humble cow. You might be sceptical, we all are, connected devices have been around for decades and IoT appears to be a hammer looking for a nail (blockchain is in a similar boat).

For decades scientists have attached trackers to animals, weather balloons have been gathering data and the CIA has implanted a tracking device into every newborn baby since 1984 [citation needed]. So why isn’t every physical object in every factory, farm and home connected to the internet?

Firstly, IoT has been ruined by poorly thought of consumer devices, when people think of IoT they should picture efficient electrical systems where utility companies and consumers work together to form a smart grid instead of a toaster that can receive emails. IoT devices should be an invited addition to our future and not a collection of hastily produced, vulnerable and unless devices. IoT is not about creating devices such as microwaves that turn into cameras, to control and repress the 99% as depicted in George Orwell’s allegorical novella about Stalinism (Animal Farm would have been a different book if the farmer connected his animals to the internet). IoT is here to assist the farmer, according to the World Economic Forum we need to increase food production by 50 - 100% before 2050 to ensure global food security, this is where smart agriculture comes into play.

Ah, but I heard this IoT stuff will allow hackers direct access to my network. Well that depends, all security systems are vulnerable given enough time, resources and patience. A good IoT vendor will make a black hat hacker’s job more difficult by using aslr, symbol stripping, binary obfuscation and other techniques to ensure unscrupulous individuals cannot remotely root the device. Some people prefer a LoT device (LAN of Things), a LoT device is not accessible to the open internet however you can access it from your local network, for example you might VPN or SSH into your network and control the device from there. Remember kids, “The S in IoT is for security” (it is up to you to ensure IoT devices are secure).

Another potential pain point is updates. In today’s patching culture it’s fairly common for multiple patches to be released within days (or hours) of a video game’s release. Soon we’ll have billions of IoT devices in the wild, we need to ensure these devices can reliably run for years, even decades. Developing stable software and creating dependable hardware is more important than ever (don’t fret, updates are still allowed).

OK, so we have things connected to the internet, so what? The answer to this question is data or rather the decisions that we can make based on the data we collect. While there is still a massive disparity between today’s Artificial Intelligence technology compared to public expectations, machine learning (which is the statistical subset) is an effective tool to spot patterns and make predictions. With enough data (and a few data scientists) we no longer have a collection of numbers, we have a set of actions to perform that will facilitate effective resource utilisation.

IoT isn’t an app that you can download from an app store, rather IoT is a bold push to a future where decisions are made in real-time, resources are utilised as efficiently as possible and automation is the norm. It’s not only a world where humans can ponder answers to complex existential questions without wondering if they have milk in the fridge (or in the connected cow’s udder), it’s a world where traffic lights can adapt to reduce vehicle pollution and traffic congestion and farms can obtain metrics such as sunshine and its intensity, air and soil humidity, the temperate and rainfall levels; allowing farmers to do the right work at the right time (waste not, want not). This isn’t a futuristic world for our designer CRISPR babies to inherit, it’s our reality.

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