5 Key Things About the Internet of Things

From your watch’s ability to judge your fitness, to thermostats in smart houses, to Starbucks streamlining the payment process with smart phones, everything is connecting. This “Internet of Things”, as it’s been buzzword-nominated, is basically a way of saying “everything around you is becoming linked to everything else”, but what does that really mean? What will the future be like when technology speaks to – and for- itself? How will that affect the way the government handles business in this new, interconnected frontier? More importantly, what will that mean for your life?

Oh, so glad you asked.

There are five key things every government leader needs to know about the Internet of Things (including the acronym, which is, unsurprisingly, IoT).

1. Computers are Everywhere

Internet of Things pretty much means what it looks like it means; it's about putting the Internet in, well, things. Phones are obvious, but now we’re talking smart houses, fridges, smoke alarms, cars, video game consoles, TVs…pretty much anything that isn’t furniture, and even that is just a matter of time.

IoT technology is incorporated into more devices each year.

According to Intel, there will be around 200 billion networked devices interacting with the IoT by the year 2020. While smartphones may currently be the most ubiquitous devices, other tools are being upgraded and incorporated into the network. Thermostats, smoke detectors, and locks can now sense their surroundings and interact wirelessly. Google’s talking about fully autonomous smart cars within the next 10-20 years (maybe sooner). Slowly but surely, our world is becoming more and more connected.

Convenient? Yes. A bit science fiction-y? Yes. Worth understanding? Absolutely. Which brings me to my second point.

2. Fearing and Shunning IoT will NOT Make it Go Away

There’s a sentiment amongst the giants of “old school government” that the best things are left unsaid until they have to be said, and then there’s no comment. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of room in today’s world for that kind of duck-and-weave approach when it comes to embracing technology. Now more than ever, it’s tantamount to the success of communication in government organizations that they know – and understand – what IoT is, how it works, and how it can be used.

For example, the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Infrastructure Protection and Office of Bombing Protection partnered with Applied Research Associates, Inc. to develop the First Responder Support Tools (FiRST) application. Responders enter general information about an explosive or HAZMAT incident, which is then automatically combined with geospatial data to instantly determine safe distances, identify potential roadblock locations, and anticipate likely damage and injuries.

The application then allows responders to email results to colleagues, increasing situational awareness and facilitating resource deployment. IoT working for them, to help save lives. Now that’s utilizing resource.

3. Privacy Issues, Data Management Will Need to be Addressed

Okay so yes, privacy is going to be an issue. Privacy is always going to be an issue. Privacy was an issue when the phone was invented. Obviously, that’s going to be a thing here, too. Just as the IoT can create more transparency, it can also endanger privacy. Personal digital information is all over the place, a lot of which people willingly surrender to the unknown Internet masses.

My daily digital life filled with information on how many steps a friend walked in a day, a reminder that my smoke detector is running low on battery power, another Instagram photo of my sister’s dinner with the hashtag #foodie attached to it and the geo-location tool enabled. We’ve become a society of over sharers.

Our Kindergarten teachers would be so proud.

However, while these things are, on the whole, fun and convenient, this “everything on broadcast” approach can lead to information ending up in the wrong hands, or being used inappropriately. Both government policies and security need to improve and evolve to meet this challenge.

To do that, you need to be able to understand – and not fear – the world of IoT, because it’s not going away, and ignoring it will not benefit anyone. Especially when…

4. Our Adversaries Use IoT

Our enemies use social media every day. They have Twitter accounts. They monitor Facebook. They hire hackers and digital media experts. They use the tools that are at the hands of anyone with a computer and an Internet connection to do harm.

As with any tool, there are two ways to use it, and the way they use it is destructive and dangerous. We have it in our capacity to use these tools to combat and overcome adversarial actions within the realm of IoT.

However, you cannot fight what you do not understand. It’s the job of all branches and divisions of government to become experts in the IoT. It’s a part of the burgeoning battlefield of the 21st century. Just as generals march onto battlefields they’ve studied, with strategies they perfected, so too must we march onto the digital battlefield prepared, educated, and well equipped to handle whatever our enemies might attempt to throw at us.

It’s not just a “new thing to learn”, it’s a new environment to understand, and to protect.

5. This is An Advantage, an Asset, and an Opportunity

The National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee studied the government’s current adoption plan for the IoT, finding that “there is a small – and rapidly closing – window to ensure that IoT is adopted in a way that maximizes security and minimizes risk. If the country fails to do so, it will be coping with the consequences for generations.”

The group recommended that the government develop a shared definition for the IoT and begin making concrete plans for moving forward. Adopting a single definition for this new technology will help agencies coordinate efforts and help the government guide future research and development.

IoT is not just a buzzword, or just data-centric aggregation definition, it’s a life-modification. IoT is the start of a new, integrated world, the likes of which we’ve only seen, really, in science fiction stories.

And that’s a good thing.

We are at the precipice of a new kind of social infrastructure, and we have the ability to steer our own ship – on our own terms – through the unknown digital waters ahead. Government leaders, it’s time to saddle up. You’re in for an exciting ride!

It’s a new frontier out there, with a lot of cowboys. Time to understand, absorb, and learn. You can be the calm before, during and after the storm. It’s your job to be the ones who lead the way.

Gotta go; my watch tells me it’s time to stand up. Also I’m out of juice. And I have a dentist appointment next week, and Netflix added a new season of my favorite show…


Guide to the Internet of Things