5 December 2016 – One day, everything will be buttonless. Nobody will ever need to grab the remote to turn on the television or hit a switch to kill the lights. These devices will just do what they’re supposed to, all by themselves, without any physical prompts from the user. They won’t be set off by claps, or voice commands, or hand gestures in the air. They will gain a certain level of independence that will diminish the need for human interaction. This is the very inevitable, very near, and very real future. Smart technology is here, and it’s only getting smarter.
Welcome to the Smart Home
Often, people talk about these technologies and the internet of things (IoT) as if automation were the only criteria for gadgets and infrastructure to be called smart. But it’s more than just that.
Firstly, for any device to fall under IoT, it needs to go beyond its original basic functions. It has to be able to receive, process, and transmit digital information the way a personal computer normally does. In order to do this, it should meet a second requirement—connectivity. The device should have the ability to connect to the internet or even communicate with other smart machines around it.
Think of it this way: A smart home fitted with automated blinds can have them immediately open once the sun rises. This triggers the smart lightbulbs inside the house to turn off. This relay of actions allows natural sunlight to come in, illuminating the house while saving on energy. Another example of devices communicating with each other is when a smart TV’s volume goes down every time a phone call comes in. This makes it easier for the user to notice the call.
Both automation and connectivity have helped push IoT forward, but, in the same way, they have also held it back.
The Inevitable Rise of Home IoT Adoption
For a number of years, the mass adoption of IoT has stalled. Users found smart devices impractical. The production of these one-off gadgets was very costly, thus driving up their prices. A few years ago, they were more of a luxury than a necessity. On top of this, not every country in the world has the kind of infrastructure needed to make internet access available to everyone. The early adopters were limited to enthusiasts who had the money to afford IoT devices and were based in regions that allowed them to optimally use their devices.
But the market has since shifted. People are clamoring for smarter things to either ease their daily lives or be a source of personal pleasure. And the industry is taking notice.
The market has since shifted. People are clamoring for smarter things to either ease their daily lives or be a source of personal pleasure. And the industry is taking notice.
Multi-billion dollar companies out of Silicon Valley are trying to one-up each other in terms of innovation, offering a very diverse collection of IoT devices to the public. Companies, regardless of size, that are not willing to acknowledge this shift will eventually get left behind. Some things that come to mind are those cellphone giants that did not respond to the shifting consumer demand for smarter phones. They eventually disappeared.
Research and advisory firm Gartner even predicted that there will be over one billion connected devices in use by 2018, and that figure alone is just for smart homes. Another billion devices are projected to be used in smart commercial buildings. The remaining billion devices are divided accordingly to industries such as healthcare, transportation, and other organizations that make up fully functional smart cities.
Japan and Germany are two of the many countries whose urban areas are already embracing smart homes. In these places, IoT has become ingrained in people’s lives to the point of necessity.
In metropolitan Japan, where commuting takes a big toll, workers are able to save time and energy during their long rides from their office to their house through home automation. Apartments with smart cookers, for example, can churn out meals which should be ready by the time their owners step through the front door.
In Germany, where the elderly make up a significant portion of the population, a number of people have opted to use smart health-monitoring devices. In the event of an emergency, like a heart attack, the device can trigger a call for emergency assistance. These monitors can save people’s lives.
Holding Accountability for Home IoT Security
The rise of the home IoT adoption rate will ultimately increase the competition between several players in the market. But with no unified regulating body to instill functional and security standards on these devices’ manufacturers, this can lead to several security issues in the long run.
This then begs the question: Who should be responsible for IoT security?
The IoT landscape is continuously evolving. As IoT branches out from user homes and into the city, users become significantly more powerless.
Should it be the IoT users? At the moment, it seems to be the case. Users have the freedom to decide which IoT devices to introduce to their homes. They can opt to install a smart home entertainment system in their house knowing what kind of information they could be sending back to the device manufacturer every time they use it. It’s an ongoing tradeoff, with users weighing their personal privacy and safety against their personal comfort and satisfaction.
But the IoT landscape is continuously evolving. As IoT branches out from user homes and into the city, users become significantly more powerless.
A good illustration would be new smart condominium units already being fitted with IoT devices like security cameras or emergency sensors. People who will be moving into these spaces will have no other choice but to opt in to that level of surveillance. Just imagine if all future building developments, both private and public, were required to have these IoT devices in place.
Once smart technologies get broadly used for public utility buildings or vehicles, users will have no reign over their privacy and personal security. The brunt of that responsibility ultimately shifts from the users to the IoT manufacturers. What risks should manufacturers foresee to protect both their users and their organizations from potential disaster?
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