The promise of IoT: everything connected, everything customisable, everything smart. All the myriad devices in our lives working synergistically to make things easier, more efficient, better.

IoT

The promise delivered, our smart thermostats learned our habits and preferences, they kept our houses cooler in summer and warmer in winter without wasting energy (particularly important with the climate change driven energy restrictions).

Then the lighting, smart bulbs giving us optimal illumination, unobtrusive, never blinding; turning on when you got up to go to the loo at night, just enough so you could see, not enough to wake you up. Even party mode creating mood lighting and effects in sync with music. This talked to your smart TV: dimming for movies, just the right amount and colour for ambient lighting.

Smart home batteries came along, charging during the cheaper off peak times, feeding back into our micro grids when electricity was more expensive. All our devices got into the game: cars, phones, watches, tablets and laptops charging fully overnight and only taking small sips to keep them going during the day.

Our fridges and pantries knew when we'd run out of something, when something was about to go off. Monitoring our habits, making suggestions, finding recipes. We could close the loop and just get them to order all the food for us, but it turned out we still liked to shop so we got lists printed.

This led to smart shops that knew who we were and what we liked to buy, products we wanted were always at eye height thanks to smart shelves (or at least products similar to ones we like, yet slightly more expensive). Personalised, electronic signs made suggestions as we walked around. No risk of getting a product containing an allergen, or other ingredient you had to avoid: they were on the bottom shelves and e-signs warned you off.

More personal devices: bio-trackers, fitness trackers, scales, toothbrushes, even toilets; got into the act giving you hints to meet your personal health goals (or the goals "suggested" by your health insurance premium). Linking your calendar was a huge leap, you didn't even need to program exceptions to your routine!

A few decried the loss of privacy, but for most of us it was just so damned convenient! Our utility bills dropped, we didn't run out of things, your house wasn't something you needed to control, it was your personal butler; anticipating your needs, smoothing out many of the bumps in the day to day routine of life.

And all was well…

Except people were still people. There was a security vulnerability in a particular brand of smart lightbulb, a patch was released, but who upgrades the firmware on a light bulb?!? Actually the companies did, but you still had to run the updater in your network… and then it turned out companies didn't want to have to support the old bulbs (LEDs last for years!), or companies went out of business, also people skipped updates, they just couldn't be bothered "hey, it's just a light."

That's when, having gone from the "Internet of Things", to the "Internet of Everything", we hit the "Exploits of Everything!"

IoT

At first it wasn't subtle: all the ACME bulbs went out, or started flashing wildly. These were swiftly dealt with. The next wave was more devious: exploit, lock out competitors and wait. We found out later that there was something of an arms race going on in our homes, competing bots fighting it out for control of our homes. Somebody won. We aren't sure who, but ultimately they stepped from light bulb, to entertainment system, to fridge, to thermostat, to smart lock, to toothbrush, to … everything. Then, from some remote command, they took control.

At first, just a few anomalies here and there, we put it down to glitches; using more power, getting us to replace things sooner, pushing us to different bands, seemingly at random. Fortunately, some big data AI noticed the change and alerted the computer forensics AI. Unfortunately, it was all so baked in that we had no choice but to cut it off completely. We went for a short while with no internet access at all (it almost destroyed the economy) then phones were brought back online (thank goodness for the Apple and Google duopoly), then a way was found to start to bring IoT back on line, but we didn't. We'd made ourselves too vulnerable, the laws and regulations were tight, but that drove up the cost, and, anyway, we'd lost the trust. Also, during the down time, we'd learnt we could actually cope without it.

And this is why, my child, the house is a little too cold this morning, why you stubbed your toe in the dark last night, and your mum has had to duck out to the shop to pick up some fresh milk for your cereal.

Disclaimer: This is a little dystopian. That's not me, nor the way I see world. I'm an optimist and an early adopter; I really want the fully connected house and the whole deal, it's mostly a lack of time stopping me. This story was inspired by a tweet from a tech savvy person who spent four hours(!) upgrading the firmware in his lightbulbs and lamented about how his parents (for example) would ever cope with something like that.

 

[Written by one of our Senior Technical Consultants]