Computing targets new frontier of cars, home, and everything

Computing targets new frontier of cars, home, and everything

Summary: ZDNet's Monday Morning Opener: Smart devices, an internet of things, and the battle for the dashboard means computing is about to get more personal than ever.


For the last couple of decades, the computer industry has promised, or threatened, that it is coming to take over the living room, and, along with it, the remainder of non-electronic life. Despite what the movies and science fiction promised us, there is undoubtedly a distinct lack of flying cars, cold fusion, consumer jet packs, or hoverboards on this planet; but it appears that a ubiquitous computing reality will arrive shortly.

Of course, this change was not heralded under the banner of ubiquitous data-gathering machines, it was called a much nicer name: An Internet of Things.

Take one look at Intel's new Edison chip, the silicon intended to power this revolution, and its prime advertised use case involving the monitoring of the body temperature, breathing, and motion of babies. It's tugging at the heartstrings and every parentally inclined part of your body — and generally passes by unmentioned.

Yet, when Google makes a $3.2 billion foray into the Internet of Things and purchases Nest, a company that specialises in smart smoke alarms and thermostats, an internet-based Whacking Day begins, where anything bearing the Google moniker is slammed for impinging the privacy of each and every online user. At one point in the frenzy, it seemed as if the sensible response to such concerns — not buying the product — was an impossible task, and Google's next step to total household domination would be the building of free houses that used AdWords advertisements as wallpaper. Presumably, any Google AdWords-sponsored residence would be hooked up to Google Fiber, which may placate some of the concerned mob.

How is it that a piece of Wi-Fi-connected baby-monitoring hardware is given a free pass, whereas a smoke alarm is pilloried as a tool of mass surveillance?

If one looks across the consumer computing landscape, its hard to find a place where Google has not found a way to get one of its technology platforms into place: Desktop PC manufacturers are toying with the idea of using Android instead of Windows; Google has formed the Open Auto Alliance with GM, Audi, Honda, Hyundai, and Nvidia to bring Android to dashboards worldwide; and there is also the global domination of Android in mobile computing.

Every chance that Google gets, it is pushing its Java and Linux-driven Android platform. With the new addition of Nest, can an Android-powered home automation system be far off?

It is possible to presume that in a couple of years, an Android developer would be able to develop an app that can run on mobile phones, desktop PCs, smart devices, and, heaven forbid, even autonomous military robots.

No other company looks quite as posed to be successful in the next era of computing; Microsoft is too busy becoming a devices company, finding a new leader, and moving towards One Microsoft to move with as much unification; Apple has yet to decide that the rest of its users' lives are profitable enough for it to become involved in; and every other vendor, even Intel with its Edison plans, just isn't large enough on the tech behemoth radar to become worried about.

The alarming aspect of Google's encroachment, and this is where the detractors and paranoid actually have a valid cause for concern, is that at exactly the moment computing begins to approach ubiquity, one company is positioned to dominate it. And it doesn't help that this one company is an unashamedly advertising-reliant technology company.

As Google pushes its tentacles into more and more places, the idea of one company possessing enough data to gain an all-encompassing view of its customers' lives is disturbing.

But make no mistake; even if Google failed to attain such a level, another company would still attempt to get reach that point of persuasiveness.

The cynical scepticism that it appears is currently reserved for Google not too long ago fell upon Microsoft and, before it, IBM.

In the era of inescapable interconnected computing, users will need to be constantly vigilant. Questioning Google's motives is a good start, but the attitude needs to be spread wider, and similar questions asked of more vendors. Because, whether you like it or not, computing and data collection will be arriving in the near future to turn more objects in your life into devices.

Computing is about to get a whole lot more personal, if you let it.

ZDNet's Monday Morning Opener is our opening salvo for the week in tech. As a global site, this editorial publishes on Monday at 8am AEDST in Sydney, Australia, which is 6pm Eastern Time on Sunday in the US. It is written by a member of ZDNet's global editorial board, which is comprised of our lead editors across Asia, Australia, Europe, and the US.

Read more of ZDNet's Monday Morning Openers

Topics: Privacy, Android, Mobile OS, Security


Chris started his journalistic adventure in 2006 as the Editor of Builder AU after originally joining CBS as a programmer. After a Canadian sojourn, he returned in 2011 as the Editor of TechRepublic Australia, and is now the Australian Editor of ZDNet.

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  • The only other company that has succeeded at the task..

    Was Microsoft taking over all the vendors forcing DOS on them.

    Initially, it was a good move... until they started forcing those same vendors to NOT permit any other operating system.

    And then the anti-competitive actions of offering supposedly required APIs, then yanking them out from the release...

    Google can't do either one. The OS is released in open source. So anyone can use it, in any way they want, change it any way they want.

    This just looks more like a company diversifying, to help insulate itself from vagaries of a stock market.

    The only APIs that Google can control are those for their own applications which are not open source. And nobody is required to use them.
    • Correct. There is choice.

      Something Microsoft continues to try to remove and insert their warez as the only option available. The danger IS real. The Danger is Microsoft!
    • there is a choice

      and many people make the smart choice to run from google as fast as they can.
  • As too often the case here; way too early predictions.

    Boy oh boy. You might as well declare we are on the immediate verge of finding a planet inhabited by aliens.

    "it appears that a ubiquitous computing reality will arrive shortly."

    "existing or being everywhere, especially at the same time; omnipresent"

    Really. And will be arriving shortly?

    That really is a hoot. Everyone knows that in the world of IT, things can happen very fast, change occurs regularly and rapidly. If someone says something is about to "arrive soon" in the IT industry they are seldom talking beyond months, and quite frankly, its impossible to see how there is going to be the kind of ubiquitous computing reality the author seems to be referring to will come to exist even in the next few years.

    And what kind of a crack-pot statement is this??:
    "How is it that a piece of Wi-Fi-connected baby-monitoring hardware is given a free pass, whereas a smoke alarm is pilloried as a tool of mass surveillance"

    I beg your pardon?? OMG. Its absolutely frightening how narrow sighted some writers are around here.

    First of all, lets assume the Wi-Fi connected baby monitoring hardware spoken of is of the typical kind one buys off the shelf and not some clever piece of hardware developed by the NSA. Lets also assume the smoke alarm spoken of is indeed the very same smoke alarm produced and sold by NEST, the very same one they clearly advise you about themselves that gathers information about the devices use/lack of use/kind of use etc. and reports that info back to NEST.

    Ive never heard of a baby monitor that collects information about its usage and reports that information back to the manufacturer. You cant shock me if you can prove one exists, but you could surprise me a lot.

    And that's the difference. Its significant. Its not mind blowing, but its significant for good reason. I want to hear from the first individual whos going to tell me that it will never evolve beyond the most basic and rudimentary generalized information the smoke detector gathers, if it isn't even a little beyond that already.

    Who is going to step up to the plate right now and say we have ZERO to fear because here is one area, finally in the history of technology, where the ever advancing pace of tech is not going to continue to advance in the information gathering and reporting process to an ever increasing degree the same way technology has always advanced. Always.

    How simplistic a thought is it that companies that engage in this information gathering process are only seeking to know how to help us best? Better yet, how stupid does one have to be to understand that what is really going on is that companies engage in such process to increase their profits? And as many around here are so bloody fond of doing, whos never going to complain that in a companies profit making efforts they have over stepped reasonable boundaries of privacy in favor of maximizing profits over personal privacy?

    This is just so sincerely ridiculous. Its impossible to fathom how blind one has to see that many companies have become intimately aware of the way information gathering and data storage and dissemination can be used to leverage increased profits. And that for all intents and purposes there's never been a company that turned down ever increasing opportunity to make ever increasing profits.

    Its positively astounding to see anyone, anyone who should know better, to simply say there is no reason for concern or increased interest in oversight of this kind of practice.

    How naïve does one have to be to see that it is quite possible to create surveillance in a home inside a household fixture to gather all kinds of information to aid a company in figuring out what brand new unrelated product might be worth while developing. And how difficult is it to imagine that in such cases great amounts of information may be gathered in such efforts that could end up being personal information people would rather not have known. Its entirely realistic to consider that vast amounts of information could be collected that is of current little use only to be stored on data bases for future reference when its decided it now has a purpose?

    Is it so important to us, so helpful to us, so critical to our lives that we help these info gathering companies soar to bigger and better profits that we should just let them go unfettered about their business and we should just all STFU?

    While on the one hand, Im not going to be the one whos going to start saying doom and gloom is on the horizon, neither am I about to sit around and listen to buffoons infer we have little to be concerned about.

    We are dealing with dynamics in business that are only helpful and non detrimental to our lives up to the point where a company can continue to create bigger and better profits without putting us at risk, that all comes to an abrupt end, and history has dictated this is the way of business, when the businesses in question find that profits will only increase the way they want if they put the public at some risk.

    Its happened over and over and over and over again endlessly. They always think its manageable. They always tell themselves they are not out to do us harm. They are only trying to help make us the products we want at the price we want.

    And then, it all goes spiraling out of control at some point and they all stand around looking at each other as if they had no idea they were involved in practices that caused risk to the public. Ya. Sure.

    Read up on the FORD Pinto. Read up on Deepwater Horizon. Theres lots of these kinds of stories over history. Big and small. Mass food poisonings, Faulty products for children and toddlers. It really is endless how often companies have indulged in practices that will help their bottom line at what they seemed to think was a manageable risk to the public.


    I think ANYONE is nuts who just wants to give this thing a pass. The big IT companies will look after themselves thank-you. They always have and always will. We always need more sane heads who take the risk to the public more seriously, not shills who want the world to believe their company of choice will provide safe and flawless products for all.