There’s long been an Internet of Machines (IoM) — networks of appliances, including computers, that communicate with one another and with control centers (the On-Star system in GM cars is one example).

The Internet of Things (IoT) looks to take that concept one giant leap further. To the point where products like cold medicines might tell you when it’s time to throw in the towel and see a doctor. Or, as a report from NBC News further suggests, an insulin pump responds to remote commands to manage blood sugar reactions.

Which is all fun and games until a hacker threatens to sabotage your insulin pump unless a ransom is paid. Or your ex figures out how to take control of your pacemaker. At which point, the IoT could turn into an intergalactic struggle between geeked-up yuppies and the NSA.

Space Age or Spyware?

Experts seem to agree that things will proceed more deliberately, staving off High-Tech Doomsday for a while. They also seem to agree there’s no stopping the trend toward sensor-enabled objects of just about every shape and size.

So, how did things get this way, and what might they look like down the road? Some points:

  • Remote controls – for lights, televisions, fans – have been around for decades. Processors, sensors and power sources have shrunk to the point where they can be enabled just about anywhere, in anything.
  • The convenience of uber-sensors, from fitness training devices to smartscales to wearable computers, allows people to do things previously unimaginable, driving up demand for better, smaller, faster.
  • With tech getting cheaper as it gets better, more product makers can get into the game, expanding the Internet of Things to the point of becoming the Internet of Everything.

Checks and balances

What happens, though, when things don’t perform as programmed? When the signal to launch (or retract) crosses wires with the neighbor’s cell phone? Or a good, old-fashioned bolt of lightning zaps all those Smart Things into Dumb and Dumber Schmings? Possibly causing your turbo-charged Viagra to lose its mojo at an inopportune time?

According to Jason Johnson, leader of the IoT consortium, there’s an app for that. Or, at least, a series of backup plans and protocols to guard against everything from chance-happenings to chicanery. It does no good, he tells NBC News, to build upon prior accomplishments merely to have shimmer take priority over substance. And having backup plans in place is a no-brainer.

“You must solve a real problem for people,” Johnson says. “We have to make sure our products and services aren’t just gizmos that will shortly outgrow the gee-whiz factor. We have to have a positive impact on people’s lives, making them simpler and more relaxed.”

Trust us. We’re the government

Even so, privacy watchdogs warn that if data is being collected, stored and analyzed, that data could also be used for purposes other than generally assumed. By individuals and organizations willing to pay for, steal or co-opt it. Like marketing companies, hackers and government agencies. Not necessarily in those respective orders. Given the NSA and PRISM debacles, what’s to suggest that any number of data SNAFUs couldn’t happen?

According to the owner of one mobile security firm, there are two possible scenarios to bear in mind: One, where everything a person does or buys or uses is tracked and analyzed. The other? Where the individual has control over the data and can therefore benefit from the technology without having to worry about the consequences.

Sound a little far-fetched to believe that the data-enablers will give up control over how the data is used? Consider this: Imagine just one data disaster gone horribly wrong – like an insulin pump failure. Although the failure of the turbo-charged Viagra might prove more memorable, especially once the story was to hit the media. With your name prominently mentioned. How popular would the Internet of Things be then? And how long would people continue to buy products and use services that continued to contain tracking sensors?

Of course, some organizations might continue to quietly use sensors and monitor data. Kind of like the NSA has been doing. Given how well the government keeps secrets, and how even less well corporations do, it would only be a matter of time before a prominent sensor nightmare had people up in arms and voting with their feet.

As Johnson says,

We need to be very cognizant of the sensitivity of that data and how we make users aware of how this data can be used … It’s important they understand what’s going on.

One turbo-charged Viagra Fail, complete with photos and sound recordings of what accompanied it, would create that level of understanding at warp speed. Guaranteed.

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