The Connected World and Its Disconnects

Internet of Things
By SRI Consulting Business Intelligence/National Intelligence Council [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Connected World, strung together by the “Internet of Things” (IoT), is one of the hottest topics of conversation and commerce. The “things” take the form of hardware (gadgets, circuit boards) and software (social platforms, digital health records). It seems every industry has thinkfluencers and marketers determined to connect everything to the Internet – toasters to Twitter, pacemakers to spreadsheets, milk cartons to grocery delivery services and so on.

Many of the *concepts* of connecting things are useful.

For example, here’s a breakthrough idea: connect a 3D-printed liver to a monitoring system that checks liver function and configures adjustments to its tiny digital gadgetry.

The problem – and it’s an all-infiltrating one the entire of the Connected World – is the virtually endless lists of Disconnects. (Think of the issues with a digitally-fatty printed liver – they could dwarf a lifetime of alcohol abuse.)

What do I mean be “The Disconnects”? Well, let’s list them:

  • The disconnect between IoT hardware and software updates (or lack thereof)
  • The disconnect between government regulation and manufacturing and coding
  • The disconnect between security practices and insecure configurations
  • The disconnect between the Internet’s original purpose and the fast-evolving purposes created in the Connected World
  • The disconnects among communication protocols
  • The disconnects among IoT manufacturers
  • The disconnects along supply chains and vendors
  • The disconnect between speed-to-market and need-to-secure
  • The disconnect between IoT software and patches (if they even exist)
  • The disconnect between consumer safety and corporate capitalization
  • The disconnect between product malfunction and self-repair
  • The disconnects within manufacturer teams (Executive Leadership, Product Development, Security, Customer Service, etc.)
  • The disconnect between our use of technology and our slavery to it
  • The disconnect between tinkfluencers and reality (this is painfully wide)

That’s the short version. The Disconnects Lists goes on…perhaps infinitely so.

The Connected World has its promises. But all technological promises in the long run break, and they break in unpredictable ways. The Connected World brings forth Disconnects we haven’t as a species fully explored, processed, formulated theories, nor developed universally-adoptable models for continual forward-thinking, safety, maintenance, etc.

The “Connected World” project is here to stay, even discounting the hype and thinkfluencing.

So what to do?

That’s a big question, and I don’t have all the answers. My purpose here is to point out the digital version of Civilization and Its Discontents.

Therefore, I propose that where we should start our thinking is with the Disconnects, then move towards the Connects.

Idea-generation and deployment of IoT are tasks with enormous ethical, moral, economic, security, health and safety responsibilities.

But without considering – deeply, diligently – the disconnects, then the Connected World will be nothing of the sort. It will be a nightmare without morning. It will become the Disconnected World. Good luck with putting the pieces back together.

Update January 4, 2017: Well, two days after this post, the FTC announced its IoT Home Inspector Challenge to “create a technical solution…that consumers can use to guard against security vulnerabilities in software found on the [IoT] devices in their homes”. FTC is offering a $25,000 prize – which seems tiny compared to the potential value of improved IoT security. My advice? Get working on a patent!