Monday, 9 January 2012

Challenges for the Internet of Things Part 2

This post follows on from Part 1.

3. Complexity and user needs

The complexity of IoT may not meet user needs. This is a bit of a grumpy old man rant, but not without validity. More specific objections can be seen starting with:
  • GreenSpec's Quick Take: "This "smart" thermostat should help users save energy and be easier to use - more like an iPhone - than the typical programmable thermostat. But studies show that programmable thermostats don't actually save energy because people don't use them, or use them incorrectly. Will this really be different?"
  • Ironies of automation (linked to planning and set-up tasks) with a 'genius new app'.

4. Complexity Spiral 

The Tainter theory of collapse proposes the following:
1. Human societies are problem solving organizations
2. Sociopolitical systems require energy for their maintenance
3. Increasing complexity carries with it increased cost per capita
4. Investment in sociopolitical complexity often reaches a point of declining marginal returns

The challenge here is not that IoT will bring about the collapse of society, but that it is part of a trend where the additional cost and complexity produces a net burden on society rather than a net benefit. So, for instance, Michal Migurski discusses the "flighty optimism underlying arguments for Smart Cities" in the context of 'Normal Accidents' by Charles Perrow. This article is about a cost argument but it highlights the additional complexity   "Look, nobody's going to buy an Intel Atom-based sensor, which all it's doing is trying to determine whether to switch the sprinkler system on, under the sod on a golf course." To return to the Nest thermostat; we are requiring a large quantity of infra-structure to work reliably to provide limited benefit over a very simple device and a friendly neighbour.

The 'compelling argument' will need to become compelling indeed. John Michael Greer discusses the lack of bankable projects here. On the  mundane topic of affordability, people are cutting cable. This may not bode well for IoT applications based on massive increases in Telco bills when moving from 3-play to n-play. Folk are likely to find/hack more affordable solutions.

5. The Panopticon question

The current Web 2.0 has massive shortfalls in privacy and security - to a large extent representing the end of anonymity and privacy. Is IoT proposing to make good this technical debt as well as provide the end-to-end information assurance necessary for IoT applications to work with privacy, security, safety, accuracy, timeliness etc.? The issue is not one of 'things' but the funding and control of the infra-structure. Certainly a corporatist panopticon is the default way ahead. If people are to own 'their' data and have openness and transparency on its usage, then major changes to system architecture and business models will be required. The new years's contest is a welcome sign of awareness in the IoT community. Otherwise #OccupyIoT is a likely development! Bruce Sterling has discussed 'favela chic', a talk beautifully visualised here.  The technical IoT community is not in a position to lead some popular uprising against the corporate interests, and to the extent that it is trying to take down such barriers as exist in the 'internet of silos' it will be seen as part of the problem. "A moral obligation to contemplate a bright scenario" sounds like wishful thinking at best. The Daniel Suarez books are quite optimistic, and are essential reading if future scenarios are to be developed.

In these early days of proto-IoT, some of the problems are already apparent. For example:
  • "In one instance, a thermostat at a town house the Chamber [of Commerce] owns on Capitol Hill was communicating with an Internet address in China." WSJ. (h/t ACM Risks Forum)
  • "Smart meter hacking can disclose which TV shows and movies you watch" Naked Security.
  • Naperville Smart Meter Awareness (NSMA) filed a complaint in federal court seeking to stop the installation of smart electricity meters at homes throughout the city".  Greenbang.

Browsing the IoT world, I have not seen much evidence of SIL assessments based on IEC 61508, or discussions of security accreditations. These architectural and infra-structure aspects have to be proven before getting into building 'things'. The technical debt for anything other than a panopticon is basically unaffordable. If global guerillas start using 'things' in the darknet, most of the IoT community is not going to know. There are some signs of some awareness of the need for information assurance e.g. here (.ps) and here. The first of the links gives some indication of the mountain to be climbed. As regards TIA-4940 Smart Device Communications Reference Architecture (the second link), I have not done my homework and bought the standard. My evidence-free position is that 'if it looks too good to be true, it probably is'. The claims are massive, and I cannot believe the work has been done to provide end-to-end information assurance.

6. User-centred footnote

Gary Klein identified ten key  features of team player automation. These  are:
1)  Fulfill  the requirements  of a Basic  Compact to engage  in  common grounding activities
2)  Able to adequately  model other participants' actions vis-a-vis the joint activity's  state  and  evolution
3)  Be mutually predictable
4)  Be directable
5)  Able  to  make  pertinent  aspects of  their  status and  intentions obvious  to their teammates
6)  Able to observe  and  interpret signals  of status  and  intentions
7)  Able to engage  in negotiation
8)  Enable  a  collaborative  approach
9)  Able to participate  in managing  attention
10) Help to control the costs  of coordinated  activity

What assurances do we have that the IoT will meet these requirements?


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    completely pop in and drop a friendly note. . It is great stuff indeed. I also wanted to there a

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  2. Heya¡­my very first comment on your site. ,I have been reading your blog for a while and thought I would

    completely pop in and drop a friendly note. . It is great stuff indeed. I also wanted to there a

    way to subscribe to your site via email?

    IEEE 2011 Robotic Projects