To paraphrase the immortal Facebook sage, there are three things in this world I hate: 1. Articles about buzzwords; 2: Irony; and 3: Lists. Let us therefore proceed with all due irony to list our derogations of one of the buzziest: the Internet of Things, known to aficionados and curmudgeons alike as the IoT.
The IoT explosion is rather curious if you think about it, as the Internet has been with us now for nigh on two decades, and everything connected to it has always been some kind of thing. But now it seems every kind of thing from dishwashers to doorknobs require an Internet connection, since after all, we all know our dishwashers have long harbored a pent up desire for scintillating conversation with our doorknobs.
Today, the IoT itself is a Thing – a Thing Worth Talking About it seems, from all the conferences, confabs, and conversations it elicits. Because as we all know, where there’s attention, buckets of cash soon follow, and even the most egregious ideas end up with their piece of the pie if only the caterwauling is loud enough. Yet while hype is good for business in the short term, there’s this annoying little problem we call reality that has an inconvenient habit of throwing water all over our Wicked Witch of Inflated Expectations. So, get me a bucket, and here goes.
Why IoT is Doomed #1: Security
We all know the everyday computer gear that vendors have been churning out for the aforementioned two decades have matured sufficiently to prevent any kind of security breach, so it should be no problem at all to transfer that unbreakable technology to the various sensors and controls we now want to scatter about our homes, our cars, and our factories.
What’s that you say? Even our most mature, robust technology simply rolls over and kowtows any time a script kiddie with a free hacker tool decides to poke around a bit? Today that selfsame kiddie has no problem at all hacking our baby monitors and laptop cameras, which should send a chill up the spine of any online porn aficionado or parent (and for all you porn-loving parents, fuggedaboutit).
Today, the most common IoT sensor is the lowly RFID tag, found in everything from store merchandise to warehouse equipment to passports to that “security” (ahem) badge that gets you into your office at night. And what kind of security does that tag sport? Nada. Nothing. Zilch. And you don’t even have to touch the thing to hack it. Simply being in the general vicinity is good enough. Not like your passport is ever in the general vicinity of lowlife like you find in passport lines at airports.
Be afraid. Be very afraid.
Why IoT is Doomed #2: Privacy – And no, that’s not the same as security
Even if you can somehow secure that baby monitor and keep the perv down the street from spying on your little bubby boo, there’s still the problem that a lot of these IoT devices are supposed to spy on you. Why do you think there are so many buckets of cash pouring into the IoT hope-to-be-a-market? The Big Corporations don’t expect to make a big profit on the devices themselves, oh no. News flash: the Big Money in IoT is in Big Data. As in, Big Data about everything those sensors are learning about you and your nasty habits that you hide from your neighbors.
The value of Big Data, after all, aren’t the data themselves. “Fred’s car told Fred’s thermostat to turn on Fred’s hot tub” doesn’t interest anybody but Fred and perhaps his hot date (if he’s lucky). The value in Big Data, you see, are in the patterns. What shows you watch. What apps you use. Which ads influence your buying behavior. The more IoT you have, the more Big Data they collect, and the more Big Data they collect, the more they know about how you behave. And once they know how you behave, they know how to control how you behave. And that brings us to #3.
Why IoT is Doomed #3: Digital Fatigue
Remember back in the good old days, when the trusty old rabbit ears picked up three stations, and phones were attached to the wall? You do? Consider yourself old then. But it’s not just us gray hairs who actually used rabbit ears who pine for the good old days of not being quite so wired as we are today.
You don’t have to follow all the angry tweets about Facebook’s latest mind control scheme to realize that people are getting fed up. Too much social media, too many smartphones, too many YouTube videos to watch, too many apps to download, too much of everything digital and wired and online. We can’t even go for a lovely stroll in Antarctica for heaven’s sake without checking Twitter every five minutes. What the hell is wrong with us, anyway?
Now along comes the IoT, promising to connect the Internet to our eyeglasses and our wristwatches and our thermostats and our appliances and our streetlights and on and on. Can’t we just download a big-ass OFF switch so we can hear ourselves freakin’ THINK for once? Please?
Why IoT is Doomed #4: Ecosystems
Ecosystems? How could there be anything wrong with a back-to-nature, tree-hugging ecosystem? Well, I’m not talking about natural ecosystems here. I’m talking about their evil twin, technology ecosystems.
Case in point: smartphone ecosystems. In this corner we have Apple iPhone. It has its own programming environment with its own throng of developers coding apps for the iPhone App Store that only run on the iPhone. And in that corner: Google Android, with all the same stuff, only it all requires Google under the covers.
Both Apple and Google, of course, make billions of dollars this way (yes, Billion with a B, Dr. Evil!) But consumers have to choose: which ecosystem do they want to sell their soul to? Because once we consumers pick a side, it’s very difficult to cut the ties that bind us to our choice. And for all you Windows Phone or BlackBerry fans out there? Sorry Charlie, you bet on the nag that went lame in the back stretch.
With the IoT we’re back to square one, and the Apples and Googles of the world know that the spoils will go to the winners of the ecosystem wars. Only now it’s anybody’s game again, so we have a plethora of vendors, both large and small, jumping into the fray and trying to establish a foothold, in hopes of either creating their own ecosystem (for the startups) or extending their existing one (for the behemoths).
Don’t be fooled. Sure, all the IoT techies may be talking about open standards, in the hopes that all my doohickeys can seamlessly interoperate with all of your gewgaws. But open standards are nothing more than big sticks for beating weaker ecosystems into submission – and that turns us, the poor consumer, into collateral damage.
Why IoT is Doomed #5: No Killer App
One day nobody heard of an iPad. The next day everybody wanted an iPad. The day after that, everybody had an iPad. That’s what we mean by a Killer App: something everybody wants the moment they hear about it.
So far, the IoT has no Killer App. Are you lining up for Google Glass? What about a refrigerator that orders milk, or a car that turns on your hot tub? No? Didn’t think so.
Of course, the Killer App could be just around the corner. They have a nasty habit of appearing on the market suddenly with no warning, after all. But so far, we ain’t got nuttin’.
Why IoT is Doomed #6: Enterprises will Screw the Pooch
Sure, Web Scale companies and cash-rich Silicon Valley startups are all over the IoT. But what about your bank or big box retailer or manufacturer? Sure, they want to play with the cool kids too. If only it weren’t for all that legacy technology that’s weighing them down! As I wrote about in my previous Cortex newsletter, established enterprises may attempt to relegate their IoT efforts to their swashbuckling Digital Transformation initiatives, thus separating them from the mundanities of their existing technology. Only one problem: their existing technology is what runs their business. Digital Transformation may be the frosting, but the existing business, legacy and all, is the cake.
Sorry, folks. No playing with the cool kids until you finish your homework, and while you’re at it, eat all your Brussels sprouts too. For an enterprise to succeed with the IoT or any other part of their Digital Transformation initiative, there are no shortcuts – only hard work. But even hard work will get you nowhere if you’re not working on the right problems. Architecture, anyone?
Why IoT is Doomed #7: Vendors smell blood in the water, only the blood is yours
The answer to many of these problems (or at least, a hint at how we might come up with an answer) is to put the consumer in control of the IoT. Let the consumer control the security of each device. Let us determine what data the devices upload to the Big Companies. Let us set the priorities for the standards efforts. Let us turn the damn things off when we need some peace and quiet already.
In your dreams! There’s no way to fix all the problems of IoT because fixing the problems means putting the consumer in control, and the consumer would promptly turn off precisely those features that are making the VCs, entrepreneurs, and pundits salivate. Remember, the Big Money is in using the IoT to control (or at least, influence) consumer behavior – and if we as consumers could simply turn off those features that let the Big Companies make money off of us, then they’d have no reason to build out the IoT in the first place.
The Intellyx Take
Do I really think the Internet of Things is doomed, or do I believe there are solutions to these problems? I consider myself an optimist, especially when it comes to technological progress, but my core prediction is that the IoT will struggle to find its way. It will eventually arrive, but not in the forms that people envision today. The battle for who will control the IoT, the vendors or the customers, will bring to a head many of the concerns people have over the influence technology already has in our lives.
And what about the Industrial Internet? The IoT includes M2M, right? No, not Mary Tyler Moore, M2M is Machine-to-Machine, as in factory equipment and power plant turbines and locomotives and such. Sorry to disappoint – but the Industrial Internet is really quite different than the IoT this article has been skewering. The difference? Nobody in their right mind would actually put a turbine or a locomotive on the Internet – that is, the phishing-crazy, porn-laden, NSA-targeted Internet we all know and love. That’s what private networks are for. Right?
In the end, the IoT is a tool, just as all technology are tools. Tools can be used well or poorly, for good or for evil. And people are always going for the big bucks by building a better mousetrap – but the best mousetrap in the world won’t sell if your customers have a weasel infestation, of if they simply like their mice the way they are, thank you very much.
And anyway, all this hullabaloo about the IoT misses the entire point. Whether we talk about the things we’re connecting to the IoT, or the IoT itself, never forget that tools themselves are just things – and this story isn’t really about things at all. Peel away all the buzzwords and hype, and you’ll find that the Internet of Things is the Internet of People – an extraordinarily powerful communication and commerce tool, but a tool in human hands nevertheless. Be careful with that thing or you’ll put someone’s eye out.
Image credit: Kyle Slattery