Smart Cities, Homes and Offices – Are we ready for them?

smart home 2

‘Smart’ is the coveted catchphrase in today’s technology innovation standards.  It’s the reality of the future and the hope of the present that everyone from major tech giants to eager beaver startups is seeking to achieve. With international conferences focused on generating ideas for Internet of Things projects and collaborations between technology innovation players, the world is gearing up to welcome a new wave of intelligence into our very homes, workplaces and public spaces. A tangible indicator of the emergence of automation and smart system integration is the penetration of the internet by the new age IP address version 6 (IPv6) which recently recorded 4% web presence.

What really is a smart city? Cities like Vienna, Toronto and Paris rank highest in the world’s smart cities line-up. To qualify as one, a city is expected to score well in innovation and sustainability factors in technology infrastructure that will enable governing bodies to provide services to citizens. A wider description would delve on the use of ICT or Information and Communication Technologies to bring about holistic welfare promoting efficient use of resources, better delivery of services and reduced occurrence and impact of carbon footprints

If these innovations really do make it into our streets and highways, are we ready to handle the baggage they will likely bring with them? Integration with the cloud requires servers with increased immunity to crashes. Imagine the volume of information such systems will have to handle on a regular basis. This needs the right policy and a trusted IoT foundation. There is the risk of enslavement of citizens to large corporates who provide technology support to run the smart city. A smart city is supposed to promote security but not evolve into a sort of surveillance mechanism.

Let’s get closer home and look at smart buildings and dwellings. After all, if an entire city can be made smart, why can’t we realize that dream in the smaller spaces? Apple’s HomeKit sought to prove just that via the 90-second demonstration of its ambitious project that will connect gadgets using WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0 LE majorly. Google adopted a different path by introducing its own wireless connectivity protocols named Thread for its Nest smart home prototype. And then there are third-party startups and innovators trying to pitch their idea to find a place for themselves in Apple’s design. We’re talking about companies like Velvetwire who developed a sentient USB connected charger that cuts off power supply once it sense that your device is fully charged. A few gems like the ingenious infrasound listening Cocoon are also blooming with the help of crowd-funding.

With all these phenomenal advancements, what we need to give a closer look at is whether smartness on the devices we use daily is really what will make our lives better.

Let’s consider your office floor for instance. There is growing concern among IoT experts and academics that machine intelligence essentially means sacrifice of privacy for the benefit of radical hike in efficiency. In fact, just last month, Business Insider magazine released an estimate that the IoT industry will be the top grossing device market by the year 2019, surpassing the combined market size of gadgets like PCs, smartphones, tablets, smart vehicles and wearables.

So how do employers integrate smart devices with their manpower and strike the chord of harmony in the office setup? Researchers believe that too much tracking of employee behavior may deter the confidence to take chances and explore on the job. Some companies have chosen to play it safe by letting only the concerned employee get access to the details of tracking done by smart scanning systems installed at work. Something as beneficial as an intelligent lighting system could wreak havoc in an office environment. Imagine you’re in your cabin and sitting without much movement for a long time. The sensor might incorrectly sense that there are no occupants and switch off the lights. Other sensors may copy the information that you have left your desk, thereby sharing potentially damaging information about your performance.

When your devices get ‘smart’, what are you in for? Some experts say, “Trouble” according to a report published by Forbes magazine earlier this year in January. It has been reported that certain web-connected LG TV sets were found to be transmitting the device names of connected USB units. We also found reports of spying via the camera built in on some televisions. DvD Players too can snoop around trying to learn what you watch the most to sell that information to TV stations and cable operators.

My kitchen can’t be spying on me, right? Wrong. A smart kitchen was once found to disseminate information like the time you wake up deduced from when you switch on the toaster (or coffee machine) which could be valuable information for potential burglars eyeing your home. Refrigerators have once even been used to send out spam mails by a hacker group and could even transmit information on your grocery choices to businesses.

There’s more. The smart bulbs and smart home security systems that we all adore -these devices could be hoarding information by learning your enter and exit patterns which could be potentially endangering.

Innovations are often accompanied by risks and loopholes which makes those who sign-up for them to exercise caution while developers have to invest in constant experimentation to come up with ways to outsmart the glitches and possible hazards in smart devices so that they do not hamper spontaneity and individuality and they make us feel secure, not spied on.

From the Author’s Desk

I’m passionate about writing, technology and social progress. Everything innovative attracts my attention. I enjoy learning something new every day. Let us enlighten one another by exchanging knowledge with the world.