The idea of a highly-connected world isn’t exactly new, but we now find ourselves closer than ever to that reality. With the ubiquity of mobile technology, it was only natural that the idea of a world where everything is interconnected would once again come up.
Before getting into the details, it’s important to understand what the “Internet of things” really is. It’s a network of all objects on the planet that can be connected, via the appropriate hardware, to the internet, sharing information without the need for human intervention. IPv6, the latest version of the communication protocol used on the Internet, plays a huge role here because the saturation of its predecessor, IPv4, which limited how many devices we could connect to the internet. With IPv6, incredible address space of 2128 there is more than enough to assign an IP address to just about everything, literally. 2^128 is more IP addresses than the number of grains of sand on Earth.
What good is it to have everything connected?
In a world where everything is interconnected, the possibilities are limitless. Want to know about more information on that big ticket item you spot on sale at the mall? Point your smartphone at it, which could identify it with an embedded piece of hardware like an RFID or NFC tag, and it gives you a summary of reviews and pros and cons on the product. Want to know where you lost your keys? Look up on maps the words “where are my keys?” and follow the directions indicated by the embedded tag in the keys. Want to know how much milk is left in the fridge? Check your phone, or even better, your phone should notify you to go buy some when you are low.
Those are just small things that make life easier, but how about things that can save lives? Chips implanted in a body could signal physicians and local hospitals of someone who is severely injured or who is showing signs of an impending critical illness like a heart attack. What about a microchip that’s embedded in a child that has been abducted or disappears? This of course brings its own set of legal, moral and privacy issues.
What bad can come from it?
With everything potentially talking to everything else, the problems that can crop up are fairly concerning. For one, privacy essentially becomes obsolete. The idea of “keeping anything secret” becomes a total impossibility. The data needed to create the advantages needed for the internet of things becomes even more widely available than it is today. We hear complaints about companies like Google knowing too much about us for the sake of more effective targeted ads. This problem only intensifies with the Internet of Things.
One good example of a potential outcome is the recently released game Watch_Dogs. In the game the protagonist wields traditional firearms, but his weapon of choice is his smartphone that can hack any subsystem in fictional Chicago. From traffic lights to ATMs, even webcams, there are countless things to hack in the game. This even includes the information on bystanders passing by that display random tidbits of information like their income, past crimes and illnesses.
Now the game isn’t a true representation of what will happen if the Internet of things were to exist tomorrow as, we would hope, systems would be more robust in security and wouldn’t be interdependent or interconnected to the point where everything could be accessible, but it certainly brings up the question on how will we as a society protect ourselves.
Whether we like it or not, trends seems to be heading in the direction of the interconnection of everything. Our current mobile tech is only the tip of the iceberg of what we will see in the future and things look promising, but at what cost?