Computing targets new frontier of cars, home, and everything

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.
Written by Chris Duckett, Contributor

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.

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