Seasoned technology writer Michael Miller spoke to ReadWrite about his latest book The Internet of Things: How Smart TVs, Smart Cars, Smart Homes, and Smart Cities Are Changing the World.
During this conversation, he discussed current IoT practices, implementations and made some useful predictions of how consumers and businesses will be impacted by this emerging technology.
Whether you’re a seasoned technologist interested in IoT or a consumer who wants to know more about the smart devices in your home, you’ll definitely want to read this interview.
READWRITE: What was the impetus for this book?
Michael Miller: My publisher and I are always looking for new topics to write on, trying to get ahead of some these topics. In the past, I’ve written about Cloud Computing and Bluetooth, and technologies like that before they became big. My Bluetooth book came out ten years ago and my Cloud Computing book came out five or six years ago. We always try and get ahead of the trends and sometimes, we hit some that are actually hot and sometimes we don’t. We did this book about a year ago. The Internet of Things certainly was trending then, still is today. That was really the impetus.
RW: When you compare the latest wave of technology with the technology we were exposed to in the mid-nineties, what’s the biggest difference?
MM: The different thing with the Internet of Things is that it is an internet of things as opposed to a people. The internet that we’ve been use to since the mid-nineties, even though it is technology and even though it’s bits of code, and that sort of thing. It’s all designed for person to person interaction. Even when you go to a website, that’s something you’re doing personally as a human being. Whether you’re talking Usenet back in the day or the world wide web, or social media. These are all personal interactions on the internet. With the Internet of Things, you’re really talking about devices interacting. Not people. In fact, smart devices actually making decisions in lieu of people making decisions. This is more of an internet infrastructure in the background as opposed to being in consumers faces. It’s all these little bitty devices, billions of them worldwide, talking to each other, making autonomous decisions, without human interaction. The current internet that we use is the internet of people. The new internet is the Internet of Things.
RW: In chapter 2, you spent a significant amount of time discussing data harvesting and analysis. A number of devices will potentially learn about humans and potentially make our lives better. Doesn’t this also introduce a ton of security risks?
MM: Yes it does! There are a ton of security issues with the Internet of Things. And we’ve already seen some issues. We’ve seen, a month ago, there was a big internet attack, a DOS attack on some websites. It was not the typical DOS attack which is done by computers or zombie computers on a botnet. This was actually propagated by Internet of Things devices, thermostats and things like that. Hackers got into these devices and used them to create a big botnet to create a DOS attack on these others websites. That was the first time that happened. You’ve got security issues in terms of hacking into the devices themselves and using them either to go offline or to do malicious stuff like a botnet. You also have security issues with all that data that’s collected. There’s tons of data. We’re talking about data coming from your thermostat and data coming from your lighting system. Data coming from how much water you use in your house. Data coming from your car, data coming from the hospital, data coming from the grocery store, all this data is going to be out there and we’re getting smarter systems and smarter algorithms to do stuff with that data. Unfortunately, systems can be hacked. They always have been, whether you’re talking about Yahoo, with a billion accounts hacked recently, or banks getting hacked or Target getting hacked a year ago for their customer data. All this other Internet of Things data which is an order of magnitude greater than what we’ve seen in the past, that can be hacked. It gets worse though when you consider that many of the manufacturers who are getting into the Internet of Things and creating devices and building the systems. They don’t necessarily have a computer background. Ther person who’s building your smart thermostat or building your smart TV, they don’t necessary think about data security the same way you and I do in the computer industry. There’s nothing, there’s no firewalls, therés nothing in a lot of these. Not in all of the things mind you, some of these companies are conscientious but a lot of them just don’t know it. They’re not part of the industry, they haven’t been exposed to it. So their devices are much easier to hack into, than your computer or your smartphone or my smartphone. The mind just kind of boggles, you’re going to have all of this data out there, all these devices out there, built by people who are not taking security in mind. If you have a smart car out there, a smart driving car out there, somebody is going to hack into your car pretty easy. People have hacked into smart TVs, people have hacked into smart thermostats and this sort of thing. The security issues are mind boggling and unfortunately. We’re going to have more because the people who are making these things just are not thinking security first like the computer industry typically does.
RW: Do you think the general public is ready for IOT?
MM: Some people are some people aren’t. It’s always a sliding scale. There are some people who are going to jump on early, some people who are going to be dragged along a little bit later, but when you look at how part of the Internet of Things that consumers are going to interact with. It’s almost like the consumer Internet of Things, typified by the smart home and devices in the smart home and then the industrial Internet of Things. The power company and the city and all the things on the grid trying to operate in the background. You and I, or the person reading my book, the average person out there, they’re going to see and interact with this consumer Internet of Things and they’re going to do it with smart light and smart thermostats, with smart garage door openers, smart appliances and smart TVs and there’s a ton of these things being sold already, the technology has advanced quite a bit from when I wrote the book and advanced in a way, that what has to happen for the average consumer to buy into it is it has to be easier to use and it has to be cheaper and that is happening. If you look at a device like the smart thermostat, they’re easy to use, easy to connect, the smart lighting systems are very easy to use, the price has come down tremendously over the past year or two and the smart security systems with smart doorbells and smart door locks and that sort of thing, those are the three things that are driving them in the home and in all of those cases the price is coming down, they’re getting easier to use. If you go back a couple of years, a lot of these devices used proprietary wireless technology throughout their network and they didn’t talk to each other, now everything at least on the consumer end of things is using WIFI. Everybody has a WIFI network in their home, and they’re getting so that the different systems can now connect to each other. They’re not so siloed. This brand can talk to this brand, you also have the smart controllers like Google Home and the Amazon Echo and Apple is supposedly working on one also. It makes it a lot easier to centralize and control all this stuff in a hub… You set it there, it connects to your wifi network all your other smart devices in your home, your thermostat. Connects to the same hub, you control it with voice control. That’s incredible ease of use, it’s a lot cheaper than it use to be, it’s easier to hook up as that trend continues, you’re going to have more and more people jump onto it. To automate simple home activities.
RW: One of the things I liked about your book was that it is a good balance, a high-level overview on IoT, but simultaneously somewhat technical. Who was your target audience?
MM: I think that I was targeting the average consumer. Someone who doesn’t necessarily have that technical background, but someone who does have the interest. So you almost got to assume that people reading the book are interest in the technology, they’re going to have a little bit of a technical background probably. It’s not a highly technical book, I won’t pretend that it is. This doesn’t get into the ins and outs and the bits and bytes of how to connect this mesh network to this sort of thing, It is more of a general overview what’s available in different areas and what’s coming in different areas anybody with an interest in it. Whether or not you have a technical background…
RW: Within the next five years, from an IoT perspective, what kind of experience will users have in the home?
MM: I think we’re going to see an extension of what we have, I think we’re going to have the home lighting systems come down in price, they’re still a little pricey as opposed to going out and buying a light bulb. I think we’re going to see the pricing come down on all of this, we’re already seeing the ease of use come up, and now I think we’re going to see it extend into other devices and into other uses. The one I’m looking for is smart irrigation systems… Think what you can do with an Internet of Things and a smart irrigation system. You would have sensors in the yard to tell you when it’s irrigated enough, when to turn off so you wouldn’t have to even think about that, you could program in things, like my neighborhood association says I should only water on odd days to conserve water, but it would also connect to the broader internet and look at things like the weather forecast. If it’s supposed to rain tomorrow than it probably doesn’t need to turn on tonight. That’s something I can’t do with my system right now, but that’s something that can be done totally automatically totally autonomously. It would make for much more efficient water use, that would be an excellent use of the Internet of Things. We keep talking about it but I haven’t seen it yet, intelligent garage door openers. When you’re approaching the house, it would know to turn on the lights, it would also know when you’re leaving the house. Then we’ll go ahead and start the washing machine or the dishwasher. and make sure all of the lights are off. Just look at what you do in your house .and how much of that can be done without you? How much can be automated? There is quite a lot. Even the stuff that we’re doing now can get more advanced. The home lighting systems can get much much smarter in terms of knowing when you’re going into this room or if you go into this room, you always turn on a TV, or the radio or whatever, wére approaching that, we’re getting some intelligence in this stuff. We’re really at the infant level. You look at what’s there and kind of extend it forward. with a little price and look at the other stuff in the house the irrigation system the garage door, the smart appliances — we’ve been talking about smart appliances forever, but there’s still kind of dumb. They haven’t really found a good use for them. That will change also, all of this as the technology becomes more familiar, more advanced the systems become more uniform, there’s a lot of stuff we can use the Internet of Things for, to make our lives easier. And also in the case of household appliances, energy, water…
RW: In chapter two, you discuss profiting from IoT, what did you focus on there?
MM: In terms of making money from IoT, that’s done by the companies who are making the devices or putting together the systems, the software on the back end, when you think of the Internet of Things, a lot of it goes straight to the technology, behind the scene is all of the soft stuff, and that is the systems that control all of these things as well as all the data it collects and how you use that data. In fact, the biggest profit from this whole thing may be the data…
RW: Do you think data will be a commodity?
MM: That’s going to vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. And what consumers will accept in terms of how their data is used. If you are Google and you’ve collected all this data from your net thermostats and from your Google Home, that data is valuable. Google may not want to sell it. Another company might. If you have a smart router, they might be collecting a lot of data about energy. You can soft roll that data, and there’s a lot of money can be made or selling data for various purposes. I think that’s a huge profit center. Just writing the software devising the systems to deal with the data, to deal with the devices that huge behind the scenes revenue generator.
RW: Who really needs to purchase this book?
MM: The book was really targeted towards consumers but anybody in the industry who’s thinking of getting into the Internet of Things, or for that matter, when I say consumers that also means businesses and corporations who are thinking of incorporating technology also. If you run an office building you ought to be looking at incorporating the Internet of Things to make your building more efficient. You’re heating and cooling. Your communications, etc. If you don’t know what’s available, this book is a very good start into finding that out. You’ve consumers at home but also consumers in the business world also. You look at the smart heating and cooling systems that could have a huge impact on a company’s bottom line, much more than it might have in my house, how you can cut your cost by being smart about it with the Internet of Things.
RW: One more question, are there any current uses of Internet of Things that impressed you while researching your book?
MM: It’s all impressive. We’re kind of at the infant stage. on all of this stuff. A lot of it is just — What can we do with this? One that I particularly find is the use of the Internet of Things in hospitals and the medical environment. My wife was in the hospital for a few days a month ago… I’m sitting looking in the hospital room, and she’s hooked up to this device for her blood pressure and her heartbeat and this other device for her lungs and this other device for this, and none of these devices talk to each other. In fact, none of these devices send information to a central source. If my wife moves from this room to the next room, that information that the devices in the first room collected and not transferred to the second room. So the nurses have to go in and write all this stuff down manually It’s ridiculous… Take all that data, all those devices and connect them to the other devices in the hospital, a central source, so that when my wife goes from this room tot his room, her data goes with her. Then we start thinking, not just in the hospital, but what if that data is transferred to her doctor’s office. And to the specialist office, that she goes to the next week. Right now these are totally separate systems… In The medical community, everything is separate. By connecting it all together, think how much more efficient it would be but just how it would improve the health care for the patients. This is a huge opportunity that I see, that is happening, slowly but surely but will speed up and revolutionize the industry and the health care for you and me.