Read Part 1 of this article here.
For those who aim to manage change rather than be overrun by it, another line of thought arises from the ongoing explosion of connected devices called the “Internet of Things.” As if the prospect of being spied on for profit weren’t disconcerting enough, we now face further threats straight out of a science fiction thriller. Which is worse: technology going off the rails with no human in the loop, or technology running amok because the wrong human is in the loop? Whether we like it or not, we have a new player in the game now: eavesdropping and sometimes errant electronics.
Owner Or Owned?
As the Internet of Things becomes pervasive, companies and societies will need rules for the new sensor-driven business and operational models. When a self-driving car makes a wrong turn into a swimming pool, who is at fault? Does the driver maintain all responsibility? What if there is no driver? Does the programmer or equipment manufacturer accept any of the legal blame? What if the vehicle was fooled by torrential rain or some other extremely rare weather or geographic condition? Does this absolve the driver, the programmer, the manufacturer, or anyone else in the chain, of responsibility?
And when machines contract with each other, what happens when one side breaks the contract? How do you measure a “meeting of the minds” when no minds were involved in the transaction? We are already seeing computers make split-second buying and selling decisions in the securities and commodities markets, so we are likely to have rules worked out for machine-to-machine contracting in this space, and those rules are likely to spread to other fields by analogy. And where liability decisions live, insurance is sure to follow. Insurers will need to build models to decide when to accept liability for the lousy decisions of its customers’ automated devices. It’s likely that machine decisions will be excluded from policies first, so that the industry can begin to calculate how to charge for insuring these risks.
Good Buy, Privacy
Other risks in this space include the loss of personal privacy suffered by individuals whose homes, trucks, offices and bodies are constantly monitored and analyzed by everything from pulse-sensing watches to exercise machines. From cars that know when you break the law (already here) to houses that tell you which part of the day to operate your washing machine (coming soon), your devices will collect more information about your lifestyle and activities than you thought possible, and they will be sending this information over the Internet. Sometimes worse than the businesses collecting your data are the bad guys hacking into either the business information or the devices themselves to gain an insight into your life.
The FTC has already reached a consent order with an operator of home security systems for failure to protect the IP addresses of cameras in its system. A security hole allowed thieves, ex-boyfriends or voyeurs to hijack the cameras and watch private moments inside people’s homes. This will be the first of many acknowledgements that the companies peering into our homes are not always careful about guarding the data that they collect. Now add to the mix the concern that the sensors themselves – like the cameras in the FTC case – may be controlled by someone with no authorization and a malevolent motive. People with bad intentions can see inside your home or car, and can take vital information in order to rob you or worse. The deeper that sensors burrow into your life, the more intimate information can be extracted and used. Some companies (and political parties) are building profiles with this data, so that they know how to reach (and manipulate) you more easily.
Home Invasion 2.0
Worse yet, bad guys can assume control of Internet-connected devices that have important functions, not merely sensors that provide information. So rather than just peering into your life, hackers can use these physical machines to invade it and force the appliances around you to malfunction. When mechanical devices are controllable online, and those online connections are insecure, hackers can shut off your refrigerator, spoiling the food, or leave your hot tub running all weekend, thus running up your electric bills. However, the truly frightening scenarios involve more dangerous circumstances – for example, affecting the brakes or power steering in your car or turning your insulin pump up to the maximum setting.
Now Or Never
In our brave new world, the environment around us is now becoming connected, just as the people around us have already done. As this latest wave of the future arrives, we give up a little autonomy and privacy with each new web-enabled device. We may end up with a much safer world for it, but we cannot ignore the risks of misused sensors and gadgets that are currently proliferating around us. We should be thinking now about the rules needed to contain this onslaught of connected devices, because tomorrow may be too late for them to be effective.