IoT – the hope beyond the hype

January 5, 2016

Posted by: George Malim

Darren Thomson, Symantec

In 2015, the Internet of Things received the anti-award for being one of the most over-hyped emerging technologies in analyst firm Gartner’s Hype Cycle. In fact, IoT has held its position at the summit of the ‘peak of inflated expectations’ for two years running now, writes Darren Thomson, the chief technology officer and vice president of technology EMEA at Symantec. So when will we move beyond the hype?

It’s true to say in some cases the anticipation surrounding IoT is being counterbalanced by genuine advances in market-ready products. Devices like the genre-defining Nest, Hive or Amazon’s home-helper, Echo. These are undoubtedly trailblazers, but they also demonstrate that IoT isn’t a fantasy, it’s already here.

At the same time, it’s easy to see why the Internet of Things has become the victim of runaway hype, with current discussions of its potential often very abstract. But there’s something quite magical about the thought of living in a world where a network of intelligent, hyper-connected devices are constantly and intuitively working to improve our lives. In this idealised world, we might envisage a connected coffee machine that postpones its daily brewing, having just been alerted by a nearby smartphone that their mutual owner has hit snooze for the third time. Or household climate control that begins warming and lighting a home because the dweller’s smart-watch has detected the telltale signs of a sleepless night.

Forethoughts like this inevitably inspire wonder – and inflate expectations. But here’s the fascinating thing: in many ways, we still aren’t thinking big enough.

While many of us have considered the benefits of IoT on a microscopic or single consumer scale, few are contemplating the real societal implications of an IoT-ready world. IoT will do much more than simply deliver great and game-changing products. It will see humanity change the way we make things and move away from seeing the internet as a component but rather as a raw material, as vital as any alloy, textile or even fuel.

Instead of thinking about the connected car that closes its sunroof on the advice of your weather app, we should think about the safety of a national road network populated by self-driving cars, not only aware of one another but built to learn from each other’s behaviour. And instead of looking at merely cutting a family’s energy bill, we should think about a new generation of smart meters slashing the carbon footprint of entire nations.

Standing on the brink of technological change, however, we are often too busy scrambling to innovate to consider the negative connotations of that change. It’s important for all of us to take a serious look at the other side of the coin.

In a world where billions of devices are freely swapping personal information, there are huge ramifications for personal privacy and trust. If everything from planes, to ovens and power lines can all be hacked, then there are also serious implications for physical security. In many ways, IoT is creating the intersection between personal safety and cybersecurity.

Driven by these challenges, we at Symantec are investing a lot of time and resources into contemplating and researching the implications of IoT for society, safety and security. We have developed an industry-leading portfolio of authentication tools that are already protecting more than one billion IoT devices, ranging from cars to medical devices and smart TVs to industrial control systems.

Let us now start to bring together the skills of technologists with experts in culture and society, start to build some pilots and ensure that these new solutions are secure by design. In the Internet of Things, security and privacy must be inherent and not optional features; retrofitting security to a system with a million connected objects will not be an option in years to come.

IoT is unquestionably in its infancy and discussions about its implications often remain intangible. But if we move to progress these discussions towards the practical, we can make sure that IoT not only lives up to – and exceeds – the hype, but does so with security and privacy at its heart.