The greatest advantage we have today is our ability to communicate with one another. The Internet of Things, also known as IoT, allows machines, computers, and mobile devices to communicate with each other as well. Thanks to tags and sensors which collect data, information can be distributed machine-to-machine and this data can be used to our advantage in numerous ways.
Coined as a term by Kevin Ashton, who helped to found the center at MIT which developed the first radio chips that are used to track materials and goods, the Internet of Things has expanded into residential life in numerous ways. The pros and cons of the Internet of Things can show us how we can save time and money, especially if the negatives here can be appropriately managed.
What Are the Pros of the Internet of Things?
1. More available information makes life easier to manage.
Thermostats can talk to furnaces to make temperature management more consistent. Security systems can talk to door locks and monitoring centers for added protection. Refrigerators could potentially talk to smartphones to let you know what your grocery list needs to be this week. The amount of information that the Internet of Things can produce is virtually limitless and easy to customize, which ultimately makes like a lot easier to manage.
2. Inventories are easier to track.
Many businesses use the Internet of Things to determine what their current inventories happen to be. Instead of manual checks that cost time and money, tagging allows for instant updates so that a business can know when new products need to be ordered. This saves time, and in the business world, time is definitely money.
3. In a word: automation.
You don’t need to physically control every aspect of life thanks to what IoT is able to provide. There are multiple levels of automation that exist with this technology, allowing each of us to focus on what we do best. We often think of automation in ordering and inventory tracking, but security, monitoring, and outputs can all happen without direct human supervision in a number of residential, commercial, and industrial applications.
4. It could make products and services more affordable.
If manufacturing needs can be automated thanks to the Internet of Things, then some of the savings generated could be transferred to consumers. The same could be said of commercial applications. Although businesses will certainly pocket some of the savings that IoT can bring, some of that savings will also be transferred over to the consumer. This means new products could potentially cost less in the future, which promotes better standards of living up and down all household income levels.
5. It creates the potential for personalized advertising.
Thanks to Bluetooth technologies, IoT can created broadcasts that may display on store displays, smart devices, or even be attached to portable equipment. When a compatible device is within proximity of the broadcast, the information from that device can be used to specifically tailor advertising or other messages based on the preferences of the individual. This means there are revenue opportunities that didn’t exist before.
6. People can still opt out of IoT if they wish.
In some ways, people have embraced the idea of IoT because they feel they’ll be left behind if they do not accept it. Yet there is still the ability to opt out of this technology upgrade if desired on a personal level. There will always be ambient surveillance and other group IoT technologies as our society advances, but even those can be limited to some extent with rural living. The choices to opt out may be growing smaller, but they do still exist.
7. Difficult socioeconomic issues could finally be addressed.
Although there will always be a debate in IoT about how information is categorized, this enhanced communication can provide numerous socioeconomic benefits. Better educational opportunities can be offered in an automated way globally. Issues of poverty could be addressed. Farming techniques can be improved. Medical research can be improved. We can extend life, work on stopping hunger, and eradicate disease.
8. Everyone has instant access to the data they create.
You can communicate with others whenever you wish thanks to IoT. You can have your home notify you of updates. You get to save time because you don’t have to manually order everything you may need. You get to save money because you can potentially eliminate impulse purchases or limit product waste. With instant access to your personal data, you ultimately get to manage who you are and how you live so you can achieve your goals.
What Are the Cons of the Internet of Things?
1. There can be compatibility issues.
There are no international standards of compatibility that current exist at the macro level for the Internet of Things. This can make it difficult for some machines to speak with one another, especially if they come from different manufacturers. It’s sort of like trying to get a PC to read a Mac generated file just by transferring via a USB connection. The transfer can be completed, but the two machines don’t always speak the same language.
2. More complexity means more opportunities to fail.
There is the potential to save time and money with IoT, but there is also the potential to lose time and money as well. Let’s say your refrigerator reads product tags and notices you don’t have any orange juice. It sends out a notification to you and your partner that orange juice needs to be purchased, so you both stop to get some. Or maybe your equipment automatically orders items when it runs low, but a coding bug shows that your item is always low – creating daily orders for that product. Information is good, but complex information can create headaches.
3. It creates safety and privacy concerns.
If your personal life is being communicated machine-to-machine on a regular basis, what is going to happen if a hacker is able to gain access to this data? They’ll know what your regular habits happen to be, what prescription drugs you take, and potentially be able to access all of your finances. Hackers could also change your orders without your knowledge, creating a whole other set of safety and privacy issues. Even with IoT, it is necessary to always verify every order.
4. It has the potential to eliminate jobs.
Automation can be a good thing, unless that automation happens to eliminate your job. For workers to gain needed skills, they often need access to entry-level jobs like inventory tracking or purchasing so they can gain a better understanding of the industry as a whole. When technology can eliminate the human need for involvement, then a company saves money, but entry-level workers lose opportunities and paychecks as a result.
5. It may reduce human skills in many areas.
Imagine IoT being able to order whatever your home needs so that you don’t need to leave it to run errands. There might be a day when IoT makes it possible for a majority of workers to telecommute as well. As we become more reliant on technology, we lose our basic human skills of interacting with one another. We’re already seeing how people speak with one another when there’s a disagreement in a comments forum – those types of attitudes can spread as life becomes even more anonymous.
6. Not everyone has a choice.
Because of how technologies are evolving, people are finding that they have less choice about adopting IoT and what that lifestyle means. The end result is that consumers are leading lives that are more open and transparent than ever before, but the same isn’t always true for the corporations that benefit from the data that is produced.
7. The future of this technology may be driven by revenue imperatives.
Because the Internet of Things is ultimately designed by humans, how it networks and benefits us will always be based on what we face in our society today. This means consumerism may always be a driving force. Inequality may always be an issue. IoT may simply be driven by the politics of fear. In a worst-case scenario, it could be used to control populations instead of help them.
8. Eventually someone must control the data without supervision.
Who watches the watchers? At some level in the chain of command, a government entity, a corporation, or an individual is going to have unsupervised control over the data that the Internet of Things produces. Should someone have access to that kind of personal information with that level of control? What would they be able to mine out of that kind of big data? Implementing high-level IoT without laws in place to control its use could have devastating effects.
The pros and cons of the Internet of Things shows that when it is well managed, it can definitely make life easier. We just need to manage the safety and privacy concerns to make sure we can receive the full benefits of this technology without assuming unnecessary risks.