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  • Writer's pictureRameez Hashmi

The Internet of Things: The Hidden Force That Surrounds Us

Rameez Hashmi introduces the Internet of Things (IoT) and explains the astounding upside as well as the potential insidious downsides that could come from the growing integration of this new technology into our homes.

How it Works

"The IoT integrates the interconnectedness of human culture our 'things' with the interconnectedness of our digital information system 'the internet.' That's the IoT," which Kevin Ashton, the coiner of the phrase has said. Simply put the Internet of Things alludes to the billions of devices, ranging from a small pill to massive aeroplanes, that are connected through the Internet whilst collecting and sharing data. Through this connection, otherwise “dumb” devices are given a degree of digital intelligence that makes them smarter and more responsive. One of the earliest iterations of IoT was in the form of RFID tags to track equipment, but as the cost, size and power of sensors have fallen it has since evolved to surround us in our homes, factories and streets. By 2025 there will be 41.6 billion connected IoT devices in the form of smart meters to track utilities expenditure, security devices used across cities and diverse applications in automation such as connected lighting.

Megatrends of Tomorrow

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare has become the premier frontier for IoT to enable greater reach and support for strained medical systems. Use of a suite of hardware and software powered with IoT has led to remote patient monitoring, vaccine distribution and virtual medical consultations. This has especially impacted those affected by chronic illnesses, where IoT has made virtual healthcare plausible and effective. By utilising devices such as biosensors, doctors can monitor patients vitals, glucose, and other indicators whilst creating a cloud based patient profile in real time. They can also track dosage and impact on patients as well as the effectiveness of a treatment over time, with the ability to leverage powerful data visualisations and analysis tools in the cloud. Yet critics have warned against heavy reliance on such devices, particularly in their infancy when workers are untrained to the potential swarm of alerts flooding in.

IoT also enables early COVID-19 detection such as FitBit monitoring heart rate and health data. It achieves this by analysing a variety of metrics and historical health data in order to suggest when you may be infected, urging you to get tested. Meanwhile, in Chicago the possibility of a wireless throat based sensor that could monitor respiratory activity and detect COVID 19 is being explored. Smart Vaccine fridges are rapidly becoming staples across hospitals, with the ability to dynamically adjust temperatures, manage inventory and ensure anti-theft monitoring. As the world endeavours to undertake a global distribution, smart fridges may be indispensable to effective transportation.

Meanwhile, sheer scalability enables IoT to become a leading solution in addressing issues such as climate change and sustainability across cities. Through use of smart sensors, officials can monitor air quality, sewage and waste disposal as well as utility management. For example many cities are leveraging their citizens by use of AQE’s (Air Quality Eggs), an open-source IoT platform that collates citizens collected data on air quality. Similarly, smart meters have become a key contributor to effectively managing scarce resources with real time tracking, conservation suggestions and intelligent data analytics. Its applications extend to infrastructure as well, with AT&T launching a service that provides monitoring of cracks and tilts in infrastructure such as bridges through the use of LTE enabled sensors. Moving forward, city planners are increasingly turning towards IoT to create more efficient, sustainable and intelligent cities.

Privacy in a Connected World

While IoT’s true power lies in the enormous scope of data it collects, in a world where data is our identity, this can be a dual-edged sword. Imagine a confidential client meeting occurring in a conference room with IoT devices and microphones, or a smart home that tracks your habits and movements. This data could potentially be sold to the highest bidder, hacked through cyber warfare or exploited by corporations. While not all IoT systems inherently collect and transmit data in such a way, the war on privacy remains a prominent concern. With governments around the world pushing for greater data protection and transparency, many tech giants are moving towards giving the consumer greater control over their data. For example Amazon, in its recent Alexa Live event, unveiled a host of new features that would give end-users greater control over data collection and privacy settings. Proponents predict the fusion of AI and IoT, often known as AIoT, to be the next breakthrough in bridging critical concerns and enabling greater scope within the field. Many envision it solving privacy concerns by creating custom encryptions, localised computation and improved efficiency. Yet currently the hardware capabilities need to evolve and the algorithms refined before this can come to fruition.

The Dystopian Future that Awaits

As the technological capabilities of sensors, transistors and other components evolve in efficiency and shrink in size we will begin to see the natural progression of IoT more visibly. Software and systems for IoT metadata, communication, and processing are in their infancy with an uncertain vision of what the future will bring. Many envision smart cities, run by a vast array of sensors automating traffic, security, demographics, infrastructure and more. Our homes will become highly intelligent with nearly every item from a chair to the kitchen top crammed with sensors and run by an intelligent assistant. While security and privacy remains a concern for potential users, the value proposition will inevitably drive IoT to the forefront of economies. Yet, many wonder whether this evolution is a step in the right direction for humanity, a world surrounded by technology in every crevice, constantly being watched and tracked unknowingly. The possibilities may be endless but some may say it is best to leave a chair as simply a chair and nothing more.

The UCL Finance and Technology Review (UCL FTR) is the official publication of the UCL FinTech Society. We aim to publish opinions from the student body and industry experts with accuracy and journalistic integrity. While every care is taken to ensure that the information posted on this publication is correct, UCL FTR can accept no liability for any consequential loss or damage arising as a result of using the information printed. Opinions expressed in individual articles do not necessarily represent the views of the editorial team, society, Students’ Union UCL or University College London. This applies to all content posted on the UCL FTR website and related social media pages.

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