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8/18/2014
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Internet Of Things: Limitless Dumb Possibilities

Many of the "improvements" to ordinary household objects promised by SmartThings, a software company just acquired by Samsung, are already available elsewhere or seem like overkill.

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In the 2004 reboot of Battlestar Galactica, the starship for which the series is named escapes destruction because its computers were not networked.

This profoundly pessimistic view of network security qualifies as realism outside the realm of science fiction. Computers and networks are full of vulnerabilities. Beyond mission-critical, heavily-overseen projects with limited scope, the security industry doesn't even contemplate bulletproof code. Instead, it measures software defects per thousand or million source code lines. There will be bugs; the only question is how many.

The NASA space shuttle relied on 420,000 lines of spaceflight software code. The last three versions of this program contained one error each. In the last 11 iterations, there were only 17 flaws. That's what a staff of 260 people and billions in funding will buy you. Defect counts in commercial projects are much worse.

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So it should come as no surprise that 70% of the most widely used devices associated with the Internet of Things (IoT) contain serious vulnerabilities, according to HP Fortify. The security firm found an average of 25 vulnerabilities per device among the top 10 IoT devices. Had Galactica's Cylons attacked your smart home, they'd have let themselves in and turned your toaster against you. Count your blessings that skilled hackers have better targets to distract them.

The Internet of Things anticipates a time when everyday objects and appliances can connect to the Internet. It fails to consider whether our things really should be connected to the Internet. Just as everything looks like a nail when you're a hammer, every device looks like a network node when you're a technology company.

This perhaps explains why Samsung, the company that last year introduced a "smart" refrigerator at CES, on Thursday acquired SmartThings, a company dedicated to the proposition that "everyday objects around us can do more to make our lives better." At the very least, there's the opportunity to ensure that everyday objects cost more.

Samsung joins a growing list of companies committed to a home full of networked objects. Google bought Nest and Dropcam. Apple has HomeKit and HealthKit coming soon. Microsoft is pushing Windows Embedded and Azure Intelligent Systems Service. Cisco wants to provide the networking

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Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful ... View Full Bio

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Shane M. O'Neill
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Shane M. O'Neill,
User Rank: Author
8/18/2014 | 12:38:39 PM
Nice-to-have but still not necessary
The coolness and novelty of smart homes and IoT often mask that much of it isn't necessary. We all want to conserve energy and reduce utility bills, but manual monitoring and common sense can still get you there (You probably shouldn't keep the TV on all night). I also wonder about all the data these appliances will generate. What homeowner has the time and patience to analyze it?
Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
8/18/2014 | 1:58:08 PM
Re: Nice-to-have but still not necessary
Humans want a lot of things that aren't necessary. Who *needs* jewelry, cherry-flavored Pepsi, or dogs that fit in purses? No one. Does that stop us from spending money on these items? No. A leak notifier is inarguably more useful than a Chihuahua. Water heaters and AC compressors leak all the time.
prospecttoreza
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prospecttoreza,
User Rank: Strategist
8/18/2014 | 12:41:34 PM
Count your blessings that skilled hackers have better targets to distract them.
But you should not forget the high school kids getting their first hacking experiences on the easiest and most visible targets. Think of the limitless pranking possibilities when some high schooler will full around with your toasters and garage doors just because you happen to be a parent of their classmate.
schatty956
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schatty956,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/18/2014 | 1:16:02 PM
"Smart Things" making us Dumber
Humans will be relying more on "smart things" than on their own brains. The brain's capability will be reduced drastically and our abilty to make decisions will be hampered eventually. Our machines will be getting smater, but we will becoming dumber. In some cases having smart technology will help us - but there's a lot of overkill which we can do without. They are just making money out of us by selling us stuff we really don't need.
JohnReagan
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JohnReagan,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/18/2014 | 1:23:34 PM
Dumb Possibilities
So I'm setting up a KickStarter for my Wifi enabled Silverware collection......
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
8/18/2014 | 3:38:27 PM
Re: Dumb Possibilities
Great for parents of picky eaters. No more hour-long sitdowns at the kitchen table, trying to persuade your toddler that (cold) peas really are yummy!
Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
8/20/2014 | 3:03:51 PM
Re: Dumb Possibilities
I want a sensor you can stick in a banana that will scream when the fruit gets too ripe.
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
8/20/2014 | 3:37:11 PM
Re: Dumb Possibilities
I predict baby and kid gear makers will tap right into IoT to instill even more fear into parents. Fear equals money spent when it comes to some parents.
Some Guy
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Some Guy,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/18/2014 | 2:42:54 PM
Taking the Brilliant with the Dumb
Sounds like a great start for a comedy routine, but don't rush to give up the writing job just yet. :)

The assertion, "limitless dumb possibilities," is undoubtedly true; althought, it ignores all the brilliant possiblities as well. One could easily have said the same about the iPhone and App store a few years ago. In fact by the reasoning in this article, we should all abandon planes, trains and automobiles, as we can walk or swim anywhere they go.

In the end the Internet of Things is about low-cost sensors showing up for all kinds of physical phenomena and coming down in price. Add to that the need to communicate from these sensors, and the global communications infrastructure that already exists, and you end up with the dominant design tilting to sensors on the internet. It's pretty basic economics. Just because we don't see the brilliant applications right off, doesn't mean they won't exist. And in fact it will be an emergent development, not unlike the PC and Smart Phones, which have evolved countless numbers of useful peripherals and applications that could not have been foreseen at their inception.

The sensors will exist, be put on the internet, and be justified by an initial use case, but available for an infinitude of other applications (some in combination with other sensors). A lot of Darwinian failures, over hype and disillusionment to follow until we figure out where it works, how to live with how they work (e.g., mandating cyber-security where needed) and eliminating where it doesn't work.
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
8/18/2014 | 3:40:42 PM
Re: Taking the Brilliant with the Dumb
I don't even use the pre-set on my coffee pot so doubt i'll be sensor-enabling my Mr. Coffee any time soon. Nor can i see the point of an IoT hair dryer or some of the other devices you mentioned and that i've seen online. That said, great inventions often have some really dumb examples and IoT is no exception. Security is critical, however. The more important and valuable the IoT device or service is, the better-secured it should be.
PedroGonzales
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PedroGonzales,
User Rank: Ninja
8/18/2014 | 11:30:19 PM
Re: Taking the Brilliant with the Dumb
I think the IoT does provide with some useful features, you provide some very good examples.  I believe there are some things which shouldn't  be connected to the internet or there is no point to be connected.  We will see whether people are ready for their appliances to be connected and communicate with each other. 
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
8/19/2014 | 9:08:01 AM
Re: Taking the Brilliant with the Dumb
It's probably like when batteries were invented: No doubt there were some real doozies, inventions that added batteries for no reason at all! As you say, the market will decide whether it needs to connect some devices, not others.
Stratustician
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Stratustician,
User Rank: Ninja
8/20/2014 | 1:21:53 PM
Re: Taking the Brilliant with the Dumb
I agree, just because we can add features to things, doesn't mean we need them.  I don't think there are too many applications of the addition of connectivity to household devices that really create a significant benefit aside from promoting people to be mode sedate when it comes to controlling common appliances and switches for lighting etc.  Just because we can add it, doesn't mean it makes sense.
GAProgrammer
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GAProgrammer,
User Rank: Ninja
8/20/2014 | 1:54:03 PM
Thank you!
So glad to see a dissenting voice among the deafening shout of "IoT is coming and it's going to be awesome!". I have made many of these same points in comments here.  There are many great uses for IoT, but the home is just not one of them.
Trumanjp
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Trumanjp,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/20/2014 | 6:33:43 PM
The Cumulative effect
When taken individually I can see you point but the logic doesn't hold when tested. Reading down the list of ontances where SmartThings makes claims of benefits I was quick to say as you that this benefit doesn't happen that often, what a waste. Tech for tech sake. Until i could about half way down the list and it had happened to me in the last week, then it made sense. I polled a neighbor on either side and each had one of the items you mention happen this last week. A water leak, a window open (when AC was on all afternoon), and lost keys(but had the phone of course). Not to mention you mentioned 7 times that the devices can be programed them selves but I don't want to go to 7+ places and remember how to program them, I want the simplicity of 1 place to go. 
nasimson
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nasimson,
User Rank: Ninja
8/23/2014 | 10:05:50 PM
things taking care of themselves
@ Thomas:

> Delegate too much responsibility to your things and you might stop paying attention
> to what's going on around you.

Although it has potential to make us lazy, less caring etc. but this is not necessarily bad. Since industrial revolution we have got machines working for us, and now computers (and in near future robots). All this has not made us less attentive to work.

If things can take care of themselves, thats good. So we can spend this time taking care of ourselves and our loved ones.
jgherbert
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jgherbert,
User Rank: Ninja
8/27/2014 | 10:07:58 PM
Washing Machines
About 10 years ago or so I bought a new washing machine. I ended up purchasing an LG and had the option - for an additional 400UKP as I recall - to have a web-enabled washing machine. It was exactly the same as the one I ended up buying, but could be networked and accessed remotely.

The Internet of Things started being offered to us a while ago in some ways, but honestly there has to be a good reason to IP-enable a product. In the case of my washing machine it was a totally pointless (and horribly expensive) upgrade option. All I would have been able to do with this super duper machine is to see where it was in the cycle, and to start and stop the machine. This seems pointless to me, as unless I had already loaded the machine and put detergent in, starting it would be nonsensical, and I would have just hit GO when I was standing in front of it.

Oh look, the cycle has only 20 minutes left! But I'm at work and won't be home for 6 hours. So what? Unless there's a "get clothing out and move it to the dryer" button, I just don't get it.

Let's not make an Internet of Pointless Things, right?
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