I guess you were not expecting that but trust me, I wasn’t either. It came to me as suddenly as consciousness came to Ultron in the movie, though real hardcore comic fans know for a fact that it wasn’t just like that. I guess I could say the same about the Internet of Things: it didn’t just happen, it’s been forming up over the years and over the dead carcasses of outdated technology.
For those who only saw the last Avenger’s movie, Ultron suddenly became aware of its existence, a bit by design and a bit by accident as Tony Stark was actually after the creation of fully self-aware A.I. but wasn’t quite expecting to get a Richard III incarnation that looked quite a bit as Sir Ian McKellen’s performance. He only wanted to “save the world” and accidentally created a monster that almost destroyed it instead. Comics do tell another story though, but I won’t go there as this take is not about that “nerdism” at all. It is about what the IoT really is and our perception of it.
The Internet of Things is a network of things that talk to each other. Or so you’ll learn if you go through the myriad of articles out there trying to describe it. There’s even books on it, tons of them and yet the ones I’ve read all say the same thing basically: it is about connecting devices through specific protocols, sending out meta-data, storing it in The Cloud and using that info in ways we haven’t used it before. I don’t think there’s a lot more to say around that unless you want to go really technical.
So if it’s just a way of engulfing all devices and everything that happens between them (information sent, information received and ways of using it) under one single concept, the term per se only describes the grouping of such devices and their relationships. Groups are usually self-aware, yet that doesn’t make them evil masterminds. This might help us get to our next point, which is basically about what The Internet of Things is not.
The Internet of Things is not an entity.
It is unlikely that you have thought otherwise, but making something explicit also makes it real, doesn’t it?. Ultron is not real either of course, but you know him as a character of fiction. The IoT seems real enough though and it’s been awarded some special powers, not unlike the ones Ultron has: it’s supposed to know everything that’s out there in the internet, it can control devices and ultimately it can decide whether something is right or wrong. Well, even fiction has shown has that such judgment is a bit demential, if not entirely inaccurate.
Yes, we might get to a point when Robots take over, or so Stephen Hawking seems to believe, but even that idea coming from such a renowned authority seems like a stretch to me. Is it possible that, at some dark and mysterious military facility someone’s developing that kind of thinking machine and planning on inserting it into an advanced human-like robot? Of course it is possible but that doesn’t make it real, the same way that believing in magic is not enough to make an elephant disappear. What the IoT can and what the IoT can’t do presently is as simple as 1-2-3.
1. It can set the foundation for better yet possible dangerous technology.Better indeed as Tech is becoming more and more user-friendly. You don’t need to be a teenager to use a smart phone, install an app or track your daily activity with a wrist-band. Smart-watches are not yet what we envisioned, but just give it another 2-3 years and you’ll see them either lift off or stagnate as tablets did. The dangerous part is the habits and dependencies they create. Those dependencies can grow and potentially create a condition on us, the kind that makes us well, useless without Technology.
2. It can breach the gap between those who have, and those who don’t. A bit if a stretch, I know, but think of it: making devices is becoming cheaper and cheaper by the day and manufacturers are starting to look at places like Africa for new developing business. Knowledge transfer has never been easier. Agreed, a smart phone won’t feed a child but technology can pay for that food. Have you ever heard of Warka Waterbefore for instance? You should take a look at what they are achieving. Can you imagine what that project could be like, taking water to everyone that needs it by spreading the word, effort and knowledge on how to build one of these water collecting towers? The IoT has the power to do just that: make knowledge universal and spread it even there where Technology is as scarce as water.
3. It will not bring Ultron to life, or anything like it. The power of self-awareness is something we still don’t understand enough and regardless of how cool it may sound to think that we can create it by accident with our current state of Technology, it just won’t happen. The IoT won’t anyway. Whatever happens after the next wave of Tech comes in, I can’t say but as far as IoT goes it is just a concept. It is not Cyberdine Systems and it’s not capable of launching nukes, creating machine-killing Terminators or anything like it.
Humans can though. We do have the ability to use knowledge and tools to create something physically dangerous to humanity…like killing machines, demential egotistical robots or the likes.
Ultron lives in the world of Comics and Sci-fi for a reason: everything is possible there. The laws that govern those universes are far different than the ones that rule ours: they are based on Imagination alone hence, they are only limited by the power of our own minds. The IoT though lives in the real world and the last I checked, we don’t quite understand everything that’s out there yet, do we?
Our limits and those of the IoT are quite real, and quite human.