June 6, 2017

The Internet of Things Connectivity Binge: What Are the Implications?

Theme 1: People crave connection and convenience, and a tech-linked world serves both goals well

A lot is at stake as the Internet of Things rolls out, and many of its creators are betting that people will wear connected devices, appreciate smart appliances, drive in connected cars, thrive in smart cities, understand vastly more about a sensor-saturated world and build businesses around analytics-assisted supply chains.

Disconnecting from the network would mean disconnecting from much of society. No hospital care, no TV, no news services, no telephone. Some will attempt it but most will not.
Hume Winzar

There is no one official method for measuring the growth and size of the IoT at this point, and projections tend to vary widely. Here are several estimates:

  • IHS Economics forecasts that the IoT market will grow to an installed base of 4 billion connections by 2025. Huawei estimates it will have 100 billion connections by 2025.
  • Gartner analysts estimate that total spending on IoT endpoints and services will reach nearly $2 trillion in 2017.
  • Juniper predicts that the number of connected devices, sensors and actuators will exceed 46 billion by 2021.
  • Forrester reports that transportation applications – including tracking and services in cars, trucks, trains, ships and more – are the most rapidly expanding category of internet-connected things, as are security and surveillance applications in business and government, management of supply chains, inventory, facilities, industrial assets and energy, and “smart” consumer products – smart TVs, smart LED lighting, HVAC, video and security systems.
  • Boston Consulting estimates that by 2020 $267 billion will be spent on IoT technologies, products and services. Among the chief use cases for this spending are predictive maintenance, self-optimizing production, automated inventory management, remote patient monitoring, smart meters, track and trace, connected cards, distributed generation and storage, fleet management and demand response.
  • Bain projects that by 2020 annual revenues for IoT hardware, software and logistics businesses could exceed $470 billion.
  • IDC forecasts that by this year 60% of global manufacturers will use analytics to sense and analyze data from connected products and manufacturing, and by 2018 the proliferation of advanced, purpose-built analytic applications aligned via the IoT will result in 15% productivity improvements.
  • General Electric estimates the Industrial Internet of Things (II0T) has potential to generate revenues of up to $11.1 trillion on an annual basis by 2025 – 70% of which would come via business-to-business solutions. GE predicts that investment in the IIoT will top $60 trillion in the next 15 years. Even industrial robots such as those used on vehicle assembly lines – there are more than 1 million today and 2.5 million are expected to be in use by 2019 – are networked.
  • Cisco says connected-home, machine-to-machine connections will reach 5.8 billion in 2020, and there will be a tripling of online traffic by then due to the addition of 10 billion new devices and connections in the next several years. Cisco and Arbor Networks also report that security concerns are on the rise, projecting that the number of attacks online will triple in the next five years.
  • IoT security is on everyone’s mind, and organizations like the Internet Society (ISOC) and the Internet Engineering Task Force are discussing best practices. ISOC urges more attention be paid by all involved in developing the IoT to serve the public good, noting that the scope, complexity and changing nature of this system increases challenges in security, surveillance, tracking, data rights and other concerns and requires immediate attention in regard to reacting responsibly to potential regulatory, legal and rights issues.

A majority of these respondents wrote about the double-edged reality that the IoT will create. They note that vulnerabilities will proliferate, but point out that connectivity and convenience have their own momentum and logic. They predict that for most people in most cases the risks will be seen as small when weighed against the benefits of connectivity and convenience.

It’s only human to connect, and there are many advantages. It’s magical, even addictive

Shawn Otto, organizational executive, speaker and writer with ScienceDebate.org, brought up the point that the brain-computer interface may soon network people’s minds online. He wrote, “The conveniences will outweigh the risks for many people, and the affordability of the Internet of Things will in many cases slant the playing field in the consumer’s favor. The stakes will be higher for more expensive personal things such as cars, homes, bank accounts, computer systems and the cloud, or things that carry emotional meaning, such as access to cloud-stored personal musical or photographic collections, and together these higher-stakes items will be the greater focus of criminal activity. Additionally, as the computer/brain interface becomes increasingly robust and our knowledge about commandeering certain brain centers – including perception and motivation – grows, human hacking may become less a matter of science fiction and more a serious psychological, legal and law-enforcement concern. In general, the emerging questions of human agency and free will are just over the next hill.”

We’ve just seen the early stages of digitization, so there is only one direction: More and more people will move deeply into connected life.
Stephan G. Humer

An anonymous IT director at a technology network said, “I’m sure there will be plenty of instances where an IoT hack has terrible consequences for someone. However, this is also true for our current online systems and activities, but despite all those cases we continue to see people moving more deeply into connected life rather than disconnecting. The heart of it is that the benefits of connected life (for most people) far outweigh any potential risks, and I expect that to remain true as the IoT expands to every corner of our society.”

Micah Altman, director of research at MIT Libraries, observed, “The network of IoT is at an earlier stage than that of social networks – and there is less immediate value returned, and not yet a dominant network of these devices. It may take some time for a valuable network to emerge, and so the incentives to use IoT seem, so far, small for the end-consumer while the security issues loom large given the current lack of attention to systematic security engineering in design and implementation of these systems. (The lack of visibility of security reduces the incentives for such design.) However, it seems likely that within the next decade the value of connected devices will become sufficient to drive people to use, regardless of the security risks, which may remain serious, but are often less immediately visible.”

Valerie Bock of VCB Consulting said, “No human advances come without unexpected negative consequences. We will likely continue to see dramatic and upsetting negative consequences, both unintended and as the result of malfeasance from growing interconnectivity. But the advantages of connectivity really do seem to come close to the square of the number of people connected. Whether it also will square with the number of things connected remains to be seen – I expect that the value of connecting things will not be as dramatic as the value of connecting people, and that we will learn how to make these connections sufficiently secure that people will continue to choose to make them.”

Hume Winzar, associate professor in business at Macquarie University in Australia, said, “Disconnecting from the network would mean disconnecting from much of society. No hospital care, no TV, no news services, no telephone. Some will attempt it but most will not. The majority (90%?) of connected devices will produce data that are worthless except for the subsystem gathering the data. The other 10% will be aggregated data/information that are invaluable.”

An anonymous assistant director wrote, “I’m always concerned about alarmists who think that every new technology will be the end of humanity (just read about how people felt about the printing press when it was invented). Sure there are dangers of allowing physical objects to be network-connected, but this ability also allows them to be updated and patched to prevent exploits. The benefits of smart devices can be huge. In my latest Nest Thermostat report it states, ‘Since 2011, Nesters have saved 7,681,837,833 kWh.’ I also read a report that utilities can use smart thermostats (with owners’ permission) to make slight changes to the timing and temp (5-minute delay and half a degree for example – unnoticeable by the homeowner) to eliminate the need for bringing reserve power online during peak usage. Basically they can use this network of thermostats as a reserve power plant. Examples like these in my opinion will reach every aspect of life, making us more efficient and able to use our things more intelligently. Once people start seeing the time and cost advantages of connecting their things the security and other issues will be worked out.”

Stephan G. Humer, head of the internet sociology department at Hochschule Fresenius, a private university in Berlin, commented, “We’ve just seen the early stages of digitization, so there is only one direction: More and more people will move deeply into connected life.”

Bernardo A. Huberman, senior fellow and director of the Mechanisms and Design Lab at HPE Labs, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, observed, “Networked things can lead to large, extended damage to a system. But we have not witnessed such a breakdown yet, and so people perceive the advantages of being connected and provided with services that were unheard of years ago. Uber and Lyft are great examples of what IoT can do for us. As time goes on, many more services based on the existence of networked smart sensors will appear.”

James McCarthy, a manager, wrote, “There’s always a downside to an upside, and an upside to a downside – and in the case of internet access, the upside is enormous. The advantages and benefits offered by access to the internet are far more attractive than the various risks and downsides. And – to refer to your example of automobiles – the options that don’t use some sort of connection are decreasing in number, particularly with the recent initiatives to move to autonomous vehicles. Frankly, I’m okay with this.”

David Durant, a business analyst in the UK Government Digital Service, replied, “Digital channels are increasingly seen as the only sensible way to interact with friends, work, business and the state. This will continue as more IoT items become available. Driverless cars or household ‘robots’ (e.g., Amazon’s Alexa) will be seen as something safe and entirely normal to use.”

Matt Hamblen, senior editor at Computerworld, responded, “Nearly everybody will connect to devices without hardly a worry about privacy or loss of personal data. There will just be too many advantages to being connected with a smartphone or smart wearable devices. Cars will imperil passengers if they are autonomous, but people will put up with the risk, eventually. People looking at cellphones while walking will still walk into traffic, but perhaps the devices they use will be able to warn them as they move about.”

Ben Railton, professor of English and American studies at Fitchburg State University, said, “I’m sure some folks will disconnect, and I hope that opportunity remains and will always remain a viable one. But, for the vast majority, increasing connection is both inevitable and an integral part of how we live and operate in society.”

Some said the craving for connectivity and convenience combines with one more element to make it impossible for some not to stay on board with the IoT: the drive within some to adopt the newest, magical tech toys. An anonymous respondent observed, “Innovators are putting more into what they [these tools] can do rather than how to keep them safe. People are influenced by gee-whiz gizmos, frequently at the expense of safety.”

An anonymous lead field technician said, “People as a rule are lazy and fascinated with gadgets. Almost no lay people have even the most rudimentary knowledge of how computer/network security works, and manufacturers of ‘smart’ devices design products lacking in or ignorant of that knowledge.”

Mike Warot, a machinist at Allied Gear, wrote, “People deeply discount the future costs of flaws in things they buy today. The big shiny new toy will always get bought.”

An anonymous data center technician replied, “Currently, marketing is stronger than people.”

As life increases in complexity, convenience is the default setting for most people

Many of those who are positive about the IoT’s future argued that a major driver of IoT adoption will be people’s desire for convenience and for goods and services facilitating a low-friction life in an environment of accelerating complexity, information overload and the apparent shrinkage of time. Most participants in this canvassing say people will not withdraw from IoT systems because they will make life easier and better.

Convenience and empowerment always seem to win for most people, even at some loss of privacy, control or transparency.
Scott McLeod

Scott McLeod, associate professor of educational leadership at University of Colorado, Denver, said, “There will be all kinds of hiccups, horror stories, accidents, deliberate acts of sabotage and other bumps along the road that will slow but not stop our greater connectivity. Convenience and empowerment always seem to win for most people, even at some loss of privacy, control or transparency.”

Charlie Firestone, communications and society program executive director and vice president at The Aspen Institute, observed, “The lure of convenience will continue to attract people. Those who disconnect will mostly be people who were actually personally affected.”

An anonymous IT manager and systems administrator said, “The concerns around the Internet of Things and hacking/privacy are completely legitimate, but this will not stop or even significantly slow the march of progress. Identity theft hasn’t stopped millions from using online banking. Phishing and ransomware haven’t stopped millions or even billions from using email. It’s true that someone hacking into your medical device or your car is scarier than hacking into your email, but ultimately convenience trumps security. People will give up a measure of security if it makes their life easier. The security experts behind the Internet of Things will just have to make sure that their security measures are strong enough that the convenience outweighs the risk.”

An anonymous director of evaluation and research said, “Except for maybe supersonic transport, we really haven’t seen a situation where people eschew convenience – unless they’re convinced of direct threats to their health. Making it all safe will be one of the main industries of the future. We’ll take the cyber-muggings (and worse) with the new world – just in the way we’ve always taken the new dangers (auto crashes, chemical poisonings) as a natural part of the inevitable march of progress.”

Paul Davis, a director based in Australia, said, “As digital devices and connectivity become ubiquitous, being ‘connected’ will become simpler than not. The benefits of the connected life, particular in the area of health and lifestyle outcomes, will outweigh risks of privacy loss. However, the challenge of a post-growth world where automation and algorithms have replaced most of the need for labour will present significant societal challenges.”

Sam Anderson, coordinator of instructional design at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, said, “The benefits will be too appealing (and likely too immediately societally beneficial) to turn away from. There will be some communities that turn away, but they will be a minority. It may be that many people try to partition their lives into connected (most of the time) and unconnected (for quiet, for deep work).”

Ian Peter, an internet pioneer and historian based in Australia, said, “I expect people to put convenience over risks and expand their usage of connected devices. They may feel trapped and disillusioned, but that won’t necessarily lead to them ceasing usage.”

An anonymous political science professor replied, “The lure of comfort and convenience can only be countered by extremely huge disasters, apparently. Multiple firms and governments losing – or just giving away – the private data of millions isn’t huge enough.”

Dave Howell, a senior program manager in the telecommunications industry, wrote, “Convenience. Autonomous automobiles are probably more than one but under two decades out (they need infrastructure), but we’ll move deeper into a converged world because it’s a more convenient place. Dropouts will be clustered in retirement communities or luddite compounds, mocked by the mainstream.”

Aaron Chia Yuan Hung, an assistant professor at Adelphi University, replied, “There is no doubt that hackers will take advantage of the Internet of Things and pull down massive infrastructures. But this will not deter most people from the convenience it offers. Some people will disconnect but they are likely going to be the minority.”

An anonymous network CEO wrote, “Even as risks may increase, so long as technology is offering an easier/faster/less-expensive option people on the whole will choose it.”

An anonymous writer explained how time-saving aspects of networked devices attract people. “While there are certainly concerns with security, people desire ease and convenience overall,” he responded. “The ability to ‘program’ your house to have a hot meal ready just as your self-driving car delivers you from the office is quite seductive, especially as the ease of movement and increasing access to the world around you encourages people to spend more time hustling and bustling.”

Additional anonymous respondents wrote the following, tied to people’s craving for the need for connection and convenience:

  • “Get on the bus or be left behind.”
  • “People are deluded into thinking participation equates with influence.”
  • “Lack of safety will not deter most people from jumping onboard with overuse (as with overuse of plastics and of antibiotics and of food preservation technologies and small electronics) if it is marketed as convenient and safe (even if it is neither).”
  • “It is becoming so much easier and easier to rely completely on technology in a variety of ways that it’s unlikely that people will be able to disconnect.”
  • “We’re more likely to be victimized. It will seem so easy, until something bad happens to us.”

The always-online younger generation can’t imagine being anything but connected

A number of respondents said they expect that those born of the digital generation will be likely to fully embrace becoming more fully connected and, as this new breed begins to outnumber the pre-digital generation, there will be fewer folks who are suspicious of the flaws of the IoT and the foibles of those who build and maintain its many aspects.

Sam Punnett, research officer at TableRock Media, commented, “We are raising generations of people for whom the connected life is the norm.”

Dana Klisanin, founder and CEO of Evolutionary Guidance Media R&D, commented, “Significant numbers of people will disconnect due to privacy concerns, however on the whole the newer generation will increasingly purchase networked ‘things’ as long as they can clearly see a benefit (in that item vs. the unconnected item).”

We are raising generations of people for whom the connected life is the norm.
Sam Punnett

An anonymous marketing specialist replied, “People, not cynically but as an observation, are pretty hubristic. Connected is status quo. People don’t like to be seen as being left out of the awesomeness of stuff. They’ll just do as their friends do for the most part.”

An anonymous respondent replied, “The basic paradigm of the younger generations is to connect. There will always be those for whom that connection does not work, but such people will be left further and further behind. This will create other problems!”

In a related set of thoughts among the responses, some participants in this canvassing predicted that a share of older tech users might walk away from technology as the IoT expands and they elect to take life at a slower pace. An anonymous information systems security manager said, “A fair number may choose to disconnect. The [Baby] Boomers are retiring, and for many it may offer an opportunity to simply disengage from the online pace they have kept up.”

An anonymous principal scientist at a large software company replied, “It’s only us old fogies (I’m currently 73) who will back away from being connected 24/7. I, for one, don’t trust automation and I’m not on social networks. That’s in spite of (or because of) the fact that I have a PhD in computer science.”

An anonymous communications librarian said younger people will step up to lead in finding solutions to many IoT issues, writing, “As the Millennial generation continues to take over employment and politics in this country, more attention will be paid to these very relevant concerns.”