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Special Feature
Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: Tapping M2M: The Internet of Things

Internet of Things: 10 unanswered questions

In all the excitement over IoT's potential, industry experts have glossed over some basic details regarding how exactly IoT will work. How will things be identified? How will things be policed? What types of conversations can things have with each other?

iotbandwagon

The Internet of Things bandwagon (IoT)  is already full but looks like the one at right.

On this proverbial bandwagon are herds of pundits, analysts and guys like me living in a rolling echo chamber. In our rolling echo chamber, questions are drowned by conjecture, stalwart claims, and empty predictions. Yeah, we seem to forget to answer the important questions.

There are more unanswered questions about IoT than there are unique types of things other than computers connected to the Internet.

So let's talk about some of these unanswered questions:

  1. How will things be identified? Here is the basic premise: The idea of “connecting” something to the Internet needs to go away. Things need to be identified via proximity, connection type, or sensors. We have to get to a point where there are standards (yes, standards) for things to be sensed and connected. The physical connecting and disconnecting will become painful, and arduous.

  2. What will the word trust mean to “things” in IoT? In a world where we can get past connecting, we have to start thinking about trust. There will have to be trusted keys, or tribes or families of things where trust is inherent and understood. For example, my car is registered to “Richie Etwaru” and my phone is named “Richie Etwaru’s iPhone”; still, when I connect them via Bluetooth I need the silly numeric pins. IoT will require that we redefine trust in edge computing.

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  3. How will connectivity work? If connecting and disconnecting are done with, and there is something like IoTML (The Internet of Things Markup Language) – yes I went there – to enable trust, then what does connectivity mean? Is it permanent, transient? Can a thing connect just to inventory itself, or to send a message? In cases of emergencies, can things connect to other things quickly to transmit emergency messages? If there is a fire in my neighbor's home, I can run over there and help in any way I want, call his/her family to alert them, lots of unusual connections can be made. Can things behave in the same way? Can the context of the moment things are in drive the extent of the connectivity things have with each other?

  4. What types of conversations can “things” have with each other? This one is my favorite. My phone wants to know something from my refrigerator. Can they talk about it without bothering me? Conversations between things are important. Here is a negative bolt: Just because I can see metrics about an analog device on a mobile app does not mean that “thing” is now a part of IoT. For example, if I have a refrigerator app that tells me the temperature of my refrigerator -- does that mean my fridge is now a part of IoT? No, stop it guys, that’s just silly; when my fridge starts to converse with other “things” trusted and connected then it becomes an IoT citizen. Anything else is just a fridge with an app.

  5. How will things be policed? Naturally, things will behave badly. Things will break the rules. Who will police this very loose and high context chatter? Will an entire tribe/brand of things be quarantined from connecting to other types of things? We are focusing so much on the “things” in the IoT paradigm shift that we are missing the most important premise of the entire paradigm — the network itself! The network will likely be the police.

  6. What will be the role of AI in IoT?

  7. How will societies of things form?

  8. What will awareness of each other mean to things?

  9. How will things pay each other for services procured? And with what currency?

  10. What happens to the desktop computer eventually?

In an effort to keep the blog short, I figured let us leave the last five questions unanswered for comments below.


Richie Etwaru, Constellation Orbits Richie Etwaru is Group Vice President at Cegedim and a contributor to the Constellation influencer network, Constellation Orbits. An innovation-focused technology scholar, Etwaru digs into and shares his unique perspective on a range of disruptive technologies and leadership techniques.