As with most things, predicting the future of IoT is a bit of a guessing game, what we predict today is unlikely to be what we will see down the line. The big picture may be the same, but details will be different.
For this reason, some analysts divide up their divinations into two camps, domestic or consumer IoT, and Enterprise or Industrial IoT.
The Big Picture
Opinions on this are very varied and range from the optimistic to the tinfoil-hatted predictors of catastrophe. Some think that the future will be one of increased leisure and opportunity, others see a dystopian future like the Terminator movies with mankind struggling to survive against an AI driven IoT army.
In short, the reality will probably lie somewhere in between.
We are seeing the emergence of the “Smart Home”. The proliferation of Fibre to the Home, 5g and WiFi have combined to allow homes to have high bandwidth, always-on connectivity to the Internet.
The Intelligent home has been with us for some time, but its efficiency and capabilities were limited by not being connected to the Internet. That has all changed.
Consumers can install smart security systems, with IP cameras and motion detectors, automatic recording capability, and latterly, smart locks. A PC or smart device based app gives the user the ability to monitor what is happening at home, to lock and unlock doors, switch lights off and on.
Internet-connected refrigerators monitor their contents and automatically order replacement items. There is even an Internet-enabled toilet that determines your current and projected state of wellness and recommends to the refrigerator what, and what not to buy.
All these features will be driven by a voice-activated assistant like Alexa or Siri. In future, they will self-educate, become much more sophisticated and move closer to almost human response patterns.
Gartner estimates that every person has at least four internet-enabled devices – smartphone, smartwatch, personal health monitor, laptop and/or tablet. Add to that, media streaming devices, smart TVs and gaming consoles and the average home has a large network.
There is therefore a great potential for the average home to substantially increase its investment in IoT devices.
One tongue-in-cheek suggestion was for an IoT alarm clock. It would use Internet sources to monitor traffic and weather, and if you needed extra time to get to work, would wake you up earlier.
On the downside, most home networks are not adequately protected against malware, and that will be one area that will see major growth over the next few years. There are already reports of ransomware attacks on home networks. To the home user, the sole copy of a video of a family event is as equally valuable as Intellectual property to a corporate. Imagine how easy it would be Hacking the home security system would make robberies much easier and reduce the chances of being caught.
As described elsewhere, robotics and other automation techniques have been around for some time, supplemented recently by the IIoT and AI. That process will continue with the objectives being to reduce production costs, improve product or service quality and find new and better manufacturing or service provision processes.
We can expect to see increasing numbers of unmanned, lights-out factories, fully automated production processes, and automated management of SCADA and ICS devices. It is likely that stock management will become fully automated, and driverless vehicles will transport material around eh factory.
Really Out There
Donald Rumsfeld once famously said “there are known knowns, known unknowns and unknown knowns”. Simply put, we know what we know and sometimes what we don’t know, but mostly don’t know what we don’t know. That is very true of IoT futures.
For example, ten years ago, who would have predicted driverless vehicles.
Optimists see IoT devices, including robots and androids taking over most of the mundane tasks we currently carry out at home and at work. Some even see the IoT removing the need for human involvement in some work environments.
Pessimists point out that at some point, usually called the singularity, the intelligence of IoT devices will exceed that of humans. Some observers put the singularity as happening in around 2030.
At that time, particularly if AI development follows the same trajectory, humankind will be relegated to second-tier status and ultimately wiped out by a new race of androids.
We, therefore, need to be very careful when using IoT without implementing substantial upgrades to IoT security. It’s easy to see how a ransomware attack on a moving driverless vehicle could have fatal consequences.
The tinfoil-hatted are seriously concerned about IoT and the proliferation of intelligent and semi intelligent robotic devices, especially nanobots. They point out that without proper design, management, and control, they have the potential to wipe out all biomass on Earth at worst or create a real-life Terminator environment at best.
Overall, the IoT has the potential to make significant improvements in our lives but will require careful management to ensure that the social changes in its wake do not overwhelm us.