The Internet of Things?
Even as an “IT guy” I used to have trouble getting my head around the “Internet of Things”. I absolutely got the idea of the Internet. And I get the idea of things. But I was locked into my own paradigm of things being physical and the Internet being something other than physical. Of course the Internet is physical. Your cloud is someone’s hardware. Web pages are delivered to your browser via a physical connection.
However, in the OSI model that explains how the transmission of data is dealt with, there are 7 levels. And only 1 level deals with the physical hardware. So my brain simply buried the physical information and concentrated on the logical information. In all honesty we don’t really think about the Internet. We call it that, but what we really think about is the Web, or the World Wide Web as imagined by Tim Berners-Lee.
I remember a commercial where the guy is sitting there surfing the web? He’s madly clicking away. All of a sudden you hear the “donk” sound that computers make. The guy, looking astonished says “Huh!” His wife, sitting across from him and knitting says, “What’s up Honey?” The camera shows the guy’s computer screen with a big DEAD END sign and he replies, “I just reached the end of the Internet!” Funny stuff. That I can understand, the comedy of the end of a virtual web. Akin to the end of a circle.
Old School Cool Things
But the “Internet of Things”? It eluded me for a long time. Some of this may come from my more mechanical roots. At home we had a microwave and for the longest time we didn’t use it. It was ‘unnatural’ to cook food that quickly. And I remember when my mother was given a laptop and immediately turned back to her typewriter. “It’s an electric typewriter you know! Golfball! Very Modern!” I also remember a Kelvinator refrigerator that lasted for decades. I was really quite upset when it was replaced. And of course the replacement has since been replaced a couple of times.
Maybe I just yearn for the ‘Good Old Bad Old days.’ The days of Kirk’s Star Trek, where the odds were insurmountable and the technology was stretched to the limit, but they always prevailed. “She’ll nay take anymore Captain!” She will. She did!
The modern Star Trek is sleek and shiny and sexy. And the pulse cannons never recharge in time or the warp drive is waiting on parts! Cell phones used to be the size of a house brick, but they held a charge for days and made good phone calls. Now we have smart phones that chew up their batteries in a day and make crap phone calls. Wow! Am I just an old curmudgeon?
New School Stuff
The Smart Phone. This is where I can find an entry point into the “Internet of Things”. Although my smart phone is really just an internet connected computer, it does have a lot of built in instrumentation. It has ‘things’. The iPhone 12 has at least eight instruments including a LiDAR Scanner. Laser imaging Detection and Ranging was developed in the 60’s at the Hughes Aircraft Company. And now your phone uses it for better photography.
Your phone probably has GPS. That’s a thing too! And all of this is associated with your email address, phone number and probably your home address. Even without GPS your phone can provide it’s location to within a few 10s of feet. I think you should take a minute to think about the implications of the last two paragraphs.
At home you may have an ‘Alexa’. Certainly if you have an iPhone you have ‘Siri’. Then there is the Nest thermostat and the Ring doorbell, a Google Assistant and maybe a wireless security system connected to the internet. In your car you may have Onstar and a bunch of accelerometers and air bag deployment sensors that can initiate a call when triggered. So which one gets to 911 first? Onstar or the smart phone?
HP now markets a line of “Secure” printers. Printers that are secured against hacking. Yup, your printer may be on a list of hack-able items. And then there is Dick Cheney’s pacemaker. In 2007 Dick Cheney requested that the wireless radio within his pacemaker be disabled as a precaution against any assassination attempt that might leverage the pacemaker to stop his heart.
An ever expanding scope
So how far does the “Internet of Things” reach? Smart homes can now be controlled remotely from a smart phone. Your refrigerator can message you at work to remind you to get more milk. As mentioned before there are medical devices and vehicle communications. Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Devices in Manufacturing and Agriculture with the use of GPS to aid in much more efficient plowing and seeding. Then there is energy and energy management with intelligent meters connecting your home to the grid. And, of course, the pantheon of Military, Maritime and Aerospace applications.
The scope is immense. All encompassing. Almost unimaginable in size and variety. It is developing quickly as people imagine more ‘things’ that can be usefully connected. And some that are not so useful but still connected. I do wonder if we have time to imagine what the consequences might be of a fully interconnected ‘World of Things’? It will be upon us before we know it…. And by then it may be too late.
Ladies and Gentlemen….. The HAL 2100!