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

  • How I Began to ReadWed 22 Apr, 2015

    My discovery of reading and the books that inspired me

  • Your Handy-Dandy Guide to the Bihar Assembly ElectionsMon 20 Apr, 2015

    Bihar will see Assembly elections before the end of November this year. But the games will begin long before that. Who are the key players? What are the cool moves? Our writer digs through perception and realpolitik to bring you this primer to the upcoming tournament.

  • Good People and Bad People Meet in ShimlaFri 17 Apr, 2015

    The UK television show ‘Indian Summers’, set in the 1930s Raj summer capital of Shimla, has been Channel 4's most expensive drama ever. As it concludes its finale this weekend and readies for a second season, will it go beyond an understanding of the British Empire as largely a case of bad manners and political incorrectness?

  • Are Farmers Going to Be Modi’s Biggest Blind Spot?Wed 15 Apr, 2015

    Narendra Modi declares his commitment to farmers all the time but his government has steadily acted against them. The political cost is going to be steep. From rail rokos and stone-pelting to urea trucks being looted, farmers across the country are increasingly ranged against the NDA government.

  • Three Supreme Court Orders Later, What's the Deal with Aadhaar?Mon 13 Apr, 2015

    By law, you should not be denied any government service in India if you don’t have an Aadhar card number. So why do various government programs continue to ignore three Supreme Court orders and insist on the dreaded number, and how are they getting away with it?

  • Five problems ailing veterinary medicine in India that you should know aboutFri 10 Apr, 2015

    Besides our attachment to pet animals,India’s livestock industry alone contributes almost four percent of the GDP. So why does veterinary medicine in India languish with perennial problems?

  • The Slave Ship that Ran from Kerala to New OrleansWed 8 Apr, 2015

    Post Hurricane Katrina, a whole new American dream was designed for some Indians — how to get trapped in a guarded labor camp by an American company. Five of these Indians just won $14 million in damages in their fight for justice and dignity, in one of the largest labor trafficking cases in US history. There are more than 200 other plaintiffs awaiting justice in this explosive, racist example of how America's broken visa program continues to exploit international migrants.

  • Why Spanish Is On Its Way to Becoming One of India’s Favoured Foreign LanguagesMon 6 Apr, 2015

    The New Delhi branch of the Instituto Cervantes had the highest number of enrollments in the world in 2014. In Anantapur, Andhra Pradesh, young people are betting on Spanish for their big city dreams. What’s going on with desi learners of Espanol?

  • Hello? Anyone seen my swine flu mutation?Thu 2 Apr, 2015

    An MIT study says the swine flu sweeping India might be a deadly new mutation. The National Institute of Virology in Pune firmly disputes this. How can there be such a vast difference of opinion? Could both be right or both be wrong? Is there a scientific conspiracy, a cover up, a screw up or something else entirely? We sought an independent scientific analysis and, as the Internet phrase goes, our conclusions may surprise you.

  • Does Kerala need a share of the Rs 200 crore Naxal pie?Mon 30 Mar, 2015

    This month the Kerala Home Minister approached the Union government to declare three districts from the state as Naxal-affected. But does the state have a Naxal problem and who would it benefit to have it declared so?

  • 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.