How the new Internet will mess things up for you

The Internet of Things is coming and it’s about to break your peace.

The Internet is big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mindbogglingly big it is. You may think it's a whole lot of information – like the amount you might find in a really large library – but that is not just peanuts compared to the Internet, it’s not even a few atoms in one peanut.

The amount of information on the Internet, if one is still interested in bookish metaphors, is described thus by John Barrett, a researcher at the Cork Institute of Technology. It is estimated that there are 4,000 exabytes of information on the Internet. If you are thinking: I used to buy megabytes, then gigabytes, and now my neighbourhood electronics store sells me terabyte hard disks, so surely in a little while I should be able to do exabytes? The short answer? No.

An exabyte is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mindbogglingly big it is. (You get the drift.) If you stack books one on top of the other starting from the surface of the Earth, the amount of information in 4,000 exabytes will take that stack all the way from Earth to Pluto. And back. 80 times over. If you just went, “Hmm, okay,” then don’t worry. Numbers larger beyond a point stop affecting us because, well, we can’t really believe how vastly, hugely, mindbogglingly big they are.

But all of this is about to change. For the worse.

Till about 10 years ago, the only things connected to the Internet and creating this massive torrent of information were computers. In 2007, with the introduction of the iPhone, smartphones went on to become the most ubiquitous things online. It is estimated that there will be about 1.4 billion smartphones in the world by the end of this year – about one phone for every five people in the world.

And if you thought you were tiring of people putting photos of cats, cupcakes and angry tweets against people who don’t like Mr Modi on the Internet, imagine this: in a few years, every thing, every little object – from your earring to your car – will go online.

It’s called the Internet of Things (or the Internet of Everything), and along with 3D printing, it will change our lives in unimaginable ways.

There are two aspects of this phenomenon. The first is connectivity and the second is sensor networks. It isn’t just enough to connect something to the Internet. It needs to sense something about itself or the world around it, and put that information online for other systems to use.

Even right now, unbeknownst to yourself, your smartphone is probably sending your current location to a central system that secretly notifies your spouse about your geographical lies. In fact, forget tech-unsavvy and reckless smartphone users, there is even a product called FlexiSPY that, installed on your phone, pretty much submits (to the spy) a detailed report that J Edgar Hoover would have been impressed with. With FlexiSPY, you can listen to someone’s phone calls, read their texts, see what they do online, track their location and even bug their rooms.

Let’s generalize this a bit. You take an innocent, everyday object and ask yourself the question: “Can this object possibly benefit from being connected to the Internet?”

If the answer is yes (or no), you then ask the question: “What information can it send to the cloud that can be processed and sent back as more useful information?”

Here’s an example. A pressure sensor on your Internet-enabled office chair could notify you when your devious colleagues use it without your permission. It could, alternatively, deploy spikes and switch on auditory flatulence simulators built in your currently purloined chair. More usefully, a small array of bio-sensors embedded inside your body could give you real-time data and analytics on how easy you should go on that pav bhaji.

In fact, you don’t even have to wait for the near future for all this. The Nest thermostat, designed by the father of the iPod, Tony Fadell, who went on to found Nest Labs, uses an array of sensors, weather forecasts and actual activity in a house to optimize its energy usage. The Cobra Tag fixes what is perhaps humanity’s greatest time sink – searching for lost keys – using a combination of Bluetooth and a smartphone app. And HarvestGeek essentially replaces your gardener and uses a suite of air, soil and water sensors to keep your plants happy.

So the next time you read advertising spiel that misuses the adjective ‘smart’ as a prefix to anything from an electrical grid to a condom (breakage could cause it to post a calendar-reminder for a pregnancy test in the next few days), you will know that this is all already mainstream.

This is going to be one of those things that will simply sneak up on you. Just as how you are probably not entirely sure how much personal information your smartphone is sending to the cloud, pretty soon you will probably not know if someone is recording you using an Internet-connected wearable device like Google Glass. And like a teenage son who comes home to announce that he is joining the thousands of Indians who’ve decided to take a one-way trip to Mars, some of the social and business impacts of all this will be quite disruptive.

Your self-driven smart car connects to the Internet to figure out the route to Chor Bazaar? Your insurance company, which is connected to your car in order to insure it, would like to have a word with you on that choice of location and its impact on your future premium. Think that’s a bit too much?

Progressive, an American insurer, already offers something called Snapshot – a small sensor-rich device that plugs into your car and, for 30 days, records everything about your driving habits; this data can then either save (or cost) you insurance premiums. Right now, this is an opt-in feature. In the future, cars will already be doing this and the opt-out feature may well disappear.

In a very short time in mankind’s history, the concept of privacy has gone from a really solid piece of an oak tree with two hinges and one lock to that unusable monstrosity that is the Facebook privacy settings page. A PhD is required before you can reasonably be sure that your wild party pictures aren’t seen by your landlady, who could decide to evict you.

Our politicians ultimately decide policies and legal frameworks that prevent abuse – and so far, they are largely clueless about all this. The fear is that they will misunderstand the phenomenon once more and either cripple progress or completely overlook the real dangers. We had better hope that we understand the implications of this trend better than our politicians can. Otherwise we are in for a big mess. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mindbogglingly big that mess could end up being.

Krish Ashok is an IT consultant, columnist and amateur musician who blogs at http://krishashok.wordpress.com. Follow him at https://twitter.com/krishashok

ALSO ON YAHOO ORIGINALS

  • That Thing About Creating NalandasFri 27 Mar, 2015

    If India were to have one library for every 3,000 people it would need around 4,23,333 libraries. It is estimated that India has 54,856 libraries. A recent national conference talked of ways to fix this, but are numbers all that we are falling short on?

  • How to Go From Boyish to ByomkeshWed 25 Mar, 2015

    Sushant Singh Rajput and the man behind the star. And how Dibakar Banerjee moulded him into the beloved everyman detective, Byomkesh Bakshy.

  • What is terrorizing Marathwada’s farmers?Mon 23 Mar, 2015

    The hailstorm and unseasonal rains in 2014 that destroyed the rabi crop were thought to be freak events until they happened again this year, spurring fears of a sharp rise in the number of farmer suicides, bidding to outrun Vidarbha in its tragic scale. Is the weather the sole cause of Marathwada’s agrarian crisis, and how can this crisis be tackled?

  • Can a Counterculture Become an Ethical Industry?Fri 20 Mar, 2015

    These days several Indian cities are enlivened by splashes of color: an imaginative mural, a stylish tag, a critical stencil. Street art and graffiti seem to be sprouting everywhere, but there is growing skepticism in the community on what it means when our consumer culture starts patronizing this usually unsanctioned art form.

  • Is the AAP Crumbling? Again?Wed 18 Mar, 2015

    Despite its incredible win in the Delhi polls, the party’s implosion started a while ago. A look at how all the infighting and backbiting has been steadily coming to a boil.

  • When I Die, I Want A PartyMon 16 Mar, 2015

    In June 2013, the writer met Suzette Jordan a week after she’d decided she would no longer be stifled by the name, ‘The Park Street Rape Victim’ and all that it implied. And there began a quiet friendship. This week, shaken by the news of Jordan’s sudden death, the writer attends the funeral and joins the family in remembering this extraordinary woman.

  • Things I learned at the Asian Women’s FestivalFri 13 Mar, 2015

    The International Association of Women in Radio and Television held its Asian Women’s Film Festival again this year, showcasing the work of women, but not necessarily about women. Here’s what our writer found.

  • Everything you need to know at the legal end of the Masarat Alam controversyTue 10 Mar, 2015

    And what's with Jammu & Kashmir’s Public Safety Act?

  • Is Capital Fever Making Vijayawada Ill?Mon 9 Mar, 2015

    For decades this colorful, swaggering town has dreamt of escape, of leaving, of the US. But now it’s going to be Andhra Pradesh’s capital, and a rush of new money is happily ramming into the old city. There are many with fever dreams for everything ‘World Class’, but does anyone really want to stay in Vijayawada?

  • For the first time in Indian legal history, the Parliament has begun proceedings to attempt to impeach a judge over allegations of sexual harassmentFri 6 Mar, 2015

    Why 58 Rajya Sabha members have signed this petition and everything else you need to know.

  • Why Indian medical research wants you to smile for the cameraWed 4 Mar, 2015

    At the heart of every scandal around drug trials in India has been one question: did the research subject really know what he or she was getting into? For the first time, we might have a clear answer, thanks to a cool new innovation in medical research.

  • Why Do they Protest Being Looted When It’s for their Own Good?Tue 3 Mar, 2015

    In Chhattisgarh’s infamously polluted Korba, Nirupabai came with her aged mother to protest the mine’s expansion that will wipe out her village and put them on the road. In Delhi, Baldiya Rana came with her aged mother to protest the new Land Ordinance that now lets the government grab land without the owner’s consent. Across India, millions are dissenting against the Modi government’s aggressive push to remove checks and balances for acquiring land. The experts on TV say these protestors are ignorant, short-sighted and unaware of the benefits to themselves. But are they?

  • Where do Adivasis stand in Indian law?Fri 27 Feb, 2015

    Adivasis constitute 8.6 percent of Indians. The Constitution has always aimed to protect their interests. Has the law?

  • Siddharth Vihar is gone. And with it, an important piece of Dalit historyWed 25 Feb, 2015

    While the Maharashtra government is going over plans to spend Rs 30 crore to buy the London bungalow that BR Ambedkar once stayed in, Siddharth Vihar, the boys’ hostel in Mumbai that was once the site of important political and cultural activity within the Dalit community, has been demolished. Close to a hundred students have currently been left in the lurch as a result, but here’s why the demolition means so much more.

  • What I Learned by Reading Every Budget Speech Since India got IndependenceMon 23 Feb, 2015

    In 68 years, Budget speeches have provided an idiosyncratic, potted history of the country. And no aspect of the Budget has been more fascinating than that of income tax. From socialist Strict Uncle-style disapproval of high income and a focus on egalitarian ideals to a markedly capitalist approach, here's how income tax has changed over the years.

  • Why Your Car is a Chemistry Lab on WheelsFri 20 Feb, 2015

    What makes cars one of the most successful inventions of all time? The answer lies in science.

  • Which Players Will We Remember from this World Cup?Wed 18 Feb, 2015

    Even in this age of globalized sport, multiple new formats and around-the-clock coverage, the cricket World Cup is unique in how it can transform young players’ performances and reputations. From newcomers to international cricket, like Haris Sohail and Axar Patel to more established young guns like Kane Williamson and Adam Milne, this tournament is already throwing up some fresh faces who are trying to deliver on the promise of a lifetime.

  • The Final Sanjana and Other Truths About the New Horrex HeroineMon 16 Feb, 2015

    Why do horrex heroines in Bollywood rarely get to take charge when it comes to ghostbusting? What should really scare them is a creature that walks on two legs.

  • This Valentine’s Day, should we reserve our love for instant noodles?Fri 13 Feb, 2015

    Is happiness an empty word? Is love only about hormones and neurotransmitters? Our writer ruminates on the confusing urge to send romantic love packing. And why she hasn’t done it yet.

  • Your Sari Is Like A ThermosWed 11 Feb, 2015

    Need the warmth of a sweater in winter and the breeziness of a skirt in summer? A new study finds that the traditional sari is the perfect all-weather clothing – and that everything depends on how you drape it.

  • This is one of India's best psychiatric hospitals. Is it enough?Mon 9 Feb, 2015

    India has about 78 million people with mental health problems, but only one psychiatrist for every 332,226 people, and one psychologist for every 2,127,660 people. Between the vast shortage of treatment options and colonial-style asylums, where does one look for success stories? Our author visits the Schizophrenia Research Foundation (SCARF) in Chennai for a better view.

  • Why Manjunath Kamath Has Returned to His Old and True LoveFri 6 Feb, 2015

    With every new show, Manjunath Kamath promises storytelling, absurdity and wit. As for medium or material, all bets are off since he reinvents his work every time. Leaving behind his digital prints, murals, watercolor animations, claymations and fiber glass sculptures, Kamath has returned to the fragile medium of terracotta sculpture in which he began his journey as a leading artist of his generation.

  • Why is Delhi Looking for a Second Opinion?Thu 5 Feb, 2015

    Here we go again. Delhi is about to elect a new leader amid all the old questions. But this time, the BJP controls both the central government and the municipal corporation. So why are Narendra Modi and his party struggling so much against the perkily resurgent AAP and Arvind Kejriwal? What lode of unpredictability is the capital tapping into?

  • Inside The Fellowship Of The Relentlessly PositiveMon 2 Feb, 2015

    India is said to have the third highest population of HIV positive people in the world. It’s no longer a disease anyone seems to talk about though there are fresh infections everyday. Funds are drying up and everyone’s looking away. But for those newly diagnosed, for those who have been living with it for years, hope comes from within the community. Their fellow sufferers are the ones who fight prejudiced doctors, make sure they stay on the course with drugs, remind them of tomorrow, remind them of love. Across the country, in every district, it is within these tiny rings of hope that the HIV positive find life again.