IoT redux… this time, it’s personal

As we advance toward 2017, a quick analysis of our connected landscape indicates that the IoT is taking a short break from destroying the internet and is now letting Mark Zuckerberg take a shot at it.

All joking aside, the process of rapidly restructuring our world via technology — and functioning in the flux — has become our new normal. More of the same is on tap in 2017, but the most interesting of those changes will apply to the masses in increasingly intimate ways.

Things will begin to get much more personal in the very near future, and IoT will be at the heart of it.

Content congestion

Finding, manipulating and sharing our personal content is a global obsession that will evolve considerably starting next year. Though we aren’t quite at the Black Mirror level, we are producing and consuming massive volumes of personal content thanks to the proliferation of IoT products like wearables, drones, action cameras and the spectacular new Spectacles.

Such items are both popular and compelling because they digitally capture our experience from a variety of perspectives, and they do so with relative ease. In fact, most frustration now occurs after personal content is captured; most complaints arise around the process of finding it when we want it. Discoverability and retrievability are elusive.

Last December, I hypothesized on this site about the “emergence of more natural interactions between people and ‘things’ in the coming year.” With the growth of Amazon’s Alexa, the introduction of Google Home and revamps to both Siri and Cortana, this has certainly come to pass. Natural voice interactions now routinely help us find things on the web (directions, weather reports, traffic updates, etc.), as well as manage our digital belongings (music, photos, apps, etc.).  More practical uses of this construct will take leaps forward next year, and this same natural interaction will become key to how we more easily discover and retrieve our personal content.

Big players in social media are very interested in helping us document our own lives (more data is more better).

The context of what we say, where we are, what we’re doing, who we’re with and the environment within our content will all be leveraged to make our searching more seamless (like accessing our memories). We will find that voice and contextual conversation steadily become the preferred process for saving and finding what we want. So, rather than hunt and peck, click and scroll, we will increasingly call to our content to get it.

Advancing voice processing technology ensures that the words we say while using our devices become searchable index points: “Find that video where I sang ‘Hound Dog’ ” or “Jump to the part where she says ‘yes.’ ” And with the expansion of video analytics services beyond traditional security applications and into contextual functionality by the end of 2017, we will see examples of “Play the clip where we made pizza” or “Show me all the videos from Central Park with Sam.”

The key reason for this coming shift is that big players in social media are very interested in helping us document our own lives (more data is more better). Memories, moments, stories, timelines and updates are all set to leverage the lower-friction content capture from sources such as drones or connected eyewear. Social platforms will most definitely implement or acquire evolved video analytics engines over the next few years to accommodate that content tsunami.

Privacy and (un)security

Of course, the amalgamation of all this personal content raises big hairy issues. Last December, I pointed out that legal jurisdictions would start to impose rules that “are more favorable to the preservation of consumer privacy by restricting where and how data can be extracted, moved, analyzed, and traded.” True to form, in late April of this year, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) was adopted by the EU and will go into effect in 2018. This regulation is one of only a few that exist today, but we’re starting to see talk of its implications in news coverage. Regardless of what governments want to access for their own purposes, the trend toward codifying commercial consumer data protection will continue as more and more-detailed data is acquired that needs to be protected.

Consider the climate: The increase in data-generating IoT devices amasses mind-bending amounts of data “pixels” that combine to form a “picture” of the world. Collectively, IoT devices have already started to paint detailed digital portraits of consumer lives — identity, interests and behaviors. This is intimate information; how businesses use it must be reckoned with. To paraphrase from several great men, “With great data comes great responsibility.” Privacy failures will surely continue to occur in 2017, as companies ill-prepared to be entrusted with consumer data shirk their responsibilities. However, by the end of 2017, organizations that violate that consumer trust will begin to face legal reprisal.

And it’s not just data that needs protecting; the capture devices of the IoT are also genuinely under threat.

I was not alone in predicting that 2016 would be marked by at least a few dramatic IoT hacks; the worst of which (as of this writing) were the huge Mirai botnet assaults that transformed tens of thousands of IoT devices into an army of attack zombies. Sadly, this is just the beginning. Mirai’s significance was not just in the easy exploitation of poorly secured IoT devices or the scale of the Dyn DDoS attack, but in the bald-faced release of the source code that made it possible. Within about a month, you could rent a Mirai botnet online to launch your own DDoS attacks. Sadly, we can count on more internet havoc in the coming months.

2017 may be the year that loss of life occurs because of an IoT hack.

And I hate to even suggest it, but 2017 may be the year that loss of life occurs because of an IoT hack. We’ve absorbed our technology into our personhood. The New Yorker’s Nathan Heller called this “a symbiosis with cheap, empowering intelligences that we welcome into daily life,” and noted, “Phones today augment our memories; integrated chatbots spare us customer-service on-hold music; apps let us chase Pokémon across the earth. Cyborg experience is here.” But cyborg experience exposes us to new cyborg weaknesses. Just last year, a fast moving 3,000-pound metal projectile — in other words, an automobile — was remotely hacked to brake, steer and accelerate erratically.

As 2017 dawns, we have entire fleets of vehicles for both commercial and consumer use moving toward self-driving, aka computer control. Might they also be subject to such takeover? And that’s just cars: Think of all those drones (especially the larger models), connected medical devices (pacemakers and insulin pumps), national power grids, smart ovens and on and on — all now mundane, all largely automated, all connected and thus all conceivably vulnerable. The very qualities that make these things so awesome also make them so potentially awful. I suspect IoT hacks will quickly get worse and more common, and the effects will be much more detrimental.

On a more hopeful note, the industry is not just sitting idly waiting for this to happen. The need to “bake in” IoT security in manufacturing and service production will finally get the attention it requires. This year, based on growing concerns, my own employer joined the nonprofit Internet of Things Consortium and I am serving as co-chair of its Privacy and Security Committee. The IOTC’s key directive is to raise awareness among all stakeholders in IoT regarding the relatively simple steps we can adhere to as an industry to protect consumers, devices and the internet community at large. There are similar efforts afoot globally.

Power shift

The power sources for our technologies are also getting more “personal.” Battery production will continue to improve, storing more power and charging faster as the overall size of embedded power sources continues to shrink. Power transfer via induction will continue to land in wireless products; and for small devices, power harvesting will evolve through organic and material advancements. By late 2018, harvesting and induction will be key to enabling implantable technology that can live in our bodies for extended periods of time. I estimate that these advancements will help make implantables broadly viable within three years.

I haven’t even touched upon how exponential leaps in artificial and augmented intelligence are driving much of this transformation, but I suspect that in 2017, the industry will become more engaged and aware of the potential dangers that AI brings. Watchdog activists will give way to industry oversight regarding AI best practices and constraints. Still, I predict there will be at least one true AI API released to general developers by early 2018.

Regardless of the wonders and hazards we already face as we create the IoT and all its associated applications, 2017 will be another significant year for the increasingly convergent technologies that are becoming more ingrained in what it is to be human in the modern era — and more personal and integral parts of our daily lives.