A discussion about the Internet of Things with Vint Cerf, one of the fathers of the Internet

Back in April, we had the opportunity to attend a talk about the Internet of Things featuring Vint Cerf. Vint Cerf co-designed TCP/IP protocols and is known as one of the fathers of the Internet. During the talk, Vint talked about the evolution of the Internet into the worldwide web as we know it and his vision for its future. Here are some of the most important points. This summary is the result of interpretation and notes taken during the talk.

The Internet of Things is a natural evolution

The Internet of Things adds connection capabilities to every day things such as a fridge, a watch or a car. The IoT wouldn’t be possible if all these things were only mechanical. But fortunately, most appliances already have software integrated. We can program existing software to include connectivity and create the Internet of Things. Eventually, everything will be programmable. And appliances will all have communication capabilities to interact with other devices.

Continuous monitoring of the IoT is a good thing

Healthcare is one of the first industries which the Internet of Things will disrupt. Without the IoT, doctors have access to limited data. They see a patient only when they are sick. They only have the patient’s words as information about their condition before their visit. With the IoT, doctors will now have the ability to track health data at all time. They will be better equipped to make an accurate diagnostic and find the root cause of an health issue. That constant monitoring will have tremendous benefits and prevent many diseases and deaths.

The constant monitoring of the Internet of Things will not just benefit healthcare. It will extend to all industries. Another example is the constant monitoring of bridge movement. When the movement of a bridge becomes abnormal, we will detect it immediately. We’ll know if the changes are because of metal fatigue or a broken element. We wouldn’t be able to know that unless we track the movements of the bridge at all times. The Smart Grid Interoperability program is yet another example. It enables devices to report their electricity usage back to you at all times. Thanks to the program, we will detect energy waste, and where energy is needed.

Continuous monitoring isn’t a threat of the Internet of Things. It’s what makes it so good. Analyzing big data can be very powerful and could improve and save many lives.

The IoT needs configuration at scale

The Internet of Things will have to resolve many challenges before it can become mainstream. One of these challenges is scale. The IoT needs a more automated system for configuration. Configuration at scale will be essential when we have hundreds of devices in our house. Without automation, we would need to configure each device one by one, and that’s of course not what we want. The User interface will also need to be friendly and scalable to enable configurations to be seamless. That’s one of the reasons we need standards. But standards are also needed for privacy concerns.

Standards to protect privacy

Privacy in the Internet of Things is a controversial topic. There is palpable tension between our will to protect our privacy and our desire to live in a world that makes us safer. A monitored house will report on abnormal events before they even get started. That will make fires or robberies much more unlikely. Our smart houses will be able to understand context, too. They will recognize faces. They’ll know if a stranger is trying to enter as opposed to a member of the household, and report to us.

But if we have real-time access to this data, it means the software companies have access to it as well. And that’s what is scary to some people. The good thing about the IoT is everything is connected. The bad thing about the IoT is everything is connected.

Controlling the extent of data access can be a solution to this problem. We could give access to data for a limited amount of time only. This already exists in banking, where credit cards have expiration dates.

On the topic of controlling machines, Vint recommends to read The Machine Stops, a science-fiction short story written in 1909 by E.M. Frosters. It describes the Internet 70 years before it was created.

“The concept of his story warns us of the unreal, artificial environment of the internet – its robotic, distancing effect on human interaction and relationships – and the ultimate disastrous consequences of our overdependence on it.”

We need more scientists in our government

In order to make our governments use technology to be more effective, they need to understand it. Very few members of congress have a technical background. We need to have more people with technical background entering politics. Most importantly, these people need to learn constantly. In our old systems, the model was to first learn something, and then use it in our career. With the new model, we learn and practice throughout our lives. There is no end to the learning process.

However, more technical and curious people in politics will be a temporary solution. As technology expands, the need for governments is going to decrease. Eventually, we should be able to take things in our own hands, and we won’t need governments anymore.

What do you think about these predictions? Are there more predictions you don’t see in this article? Let us know in the comments!

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