In a couple of recent articles Bruce Schneier, the internationally known security and privacy guru has started thinking deeply about what has come to be called The Internet of Things.
The Internet of Things is the label that is being given to the fact that more and more devices are directly talking to the internet. Thermostats, smoke detectors, fitness bands, house door locks, burglar alarms–the list goes on and on. Not to mention cars that can be unlocked, and perhaps even started with our smartphones. And I’m not even bringing up autonomous cars, which, while real, are not yet ready for prime time.
What Schneier is interested in is the fact that these objects could all talk to each other, either about themselves, or about us. Simple things like the fact that many internet-enabled house door locks will unlock when we walk up to the door, if we’re carrying our phones. Already my car allows me to unlock it if my key is in my pocket (and, incidentally, won’t allow me to close the trunk if the key is in the trunk.) At the moment the key doesn’t talk to the web, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some brands already do. And, as Schneier notes, not only do the ‘things’ in the internet sense the world around them, they also act on it, raising the house temperature, shutting off the house fan if the smoke alarm is triggered (the Nest smoke alarm will do this if there’s a Nest thermostat in the loop). So what do you call something that senses the world and then acts on it in a very generalized way? Schneier calls it a ‘robot’. And, he suggests, its properties, and probably its behavior, is no longer predictable. It’s almost autonomous, and, for those who are interested in the behavior of systems, it’s emergent meaning its behavior is no longer totally deterministic.
Here are the articles–food for thought in both of them.
Forbes article (can’t be read if you have an ad-blocker, incidentally)