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We live these days surrounded by a network of connected electronic devices which is continually expanding. Some call it the Internet of Things (IoT), in which the Internet integrates every single “smart” virtual and physical object in the world in possession of an identifiable computing system into one network.
Quite what this means, and what will happen next is a matter of intensive scrutiny, anticipation and at times serious concern. Stephen Hawking has warned that technology poses a considerable risk of destroying humanity in the coming century, and there are other less fatal but perhaps no less permanent consequences for human life in the meantime.
The IoT is composed of myriad units of tech from iPads and mobile telephones to electronic chips, application software, mobile and web apps. Even programmes and sensors attached to everyday objects such as washing machines, thermostats and household electricity systems feed into it.
Cameras are its eyes, microphones its ears. At least by proxy, we can make the case that both humans and even animals are part of its nature as well, since we are both its creators and users, its beneficiaries and its victims.
We are moving towards a decentralised computer system generating more numerous (yet frequently shallow) connections with people, locations and hubs of information technology around the world. We are thus increasingly able to communicate, organise, work and send commands remotely. We can only imagine the potential for information flow and delivery of commands in the future, and the cascade of privacy and security issues bound to follow.
The IoT is wirelessly connected, which is the basis of the ease with which information can be exchanged. However this is also its main weakness since it is so vulnerable to hacking and corrupting of devices to malicious ends by equally wireless and remote means.
At this early stage of the IoT, people with access to smartphones and the Internet can already automatically and instantaneously exchange information about their location on the move, the happenings they wish to publish in their everyday lives and their very flow of thoughts through social networking sites.
It is long acknowledged that our shopping history and the record of our transactions by credit and debit card allow companies to monitor our consumption. Tracking pets with chips is also becoming a common practice.
We are now going beyond this. In Sweden, a microchip embedded under the skin with personal and contact details allows workers to open doors and use photocopier machines. In Mexico, microchips are also inserted to control personnel’s access to the country´s criminal investigation centre.
Our augmented bodies could soon become integrated parts of the IoT, leaving behind wearable technology such as wristbands and cards as we build the tech in to ourselves as “hardwear”.
Our bodies might become the vehicle for a mine of personal and security information, which will raise both philosophical and safety issues, with our own brains no longer being the only location within our physical selves where information is stored. The implications are staggering, and as yet it is a huge unknown how this type of chip-bearing may influence identity, as well as cultural and social norms.
Of course this is all just the very tip of the iceberg, as at some stage bio-circuitry will surely become commonplace and the human brain itself will become an integrated part of the network, at which point it will no longer be a network of things but of beings.
Medaglia C.M. and Serbanati, A. (2010) An Overview of Privacy and Security Issues in the Internet of Things in D. Giusto et al. (eds.), The Internet of Things: 20th Thirrhenian Workshop on Digital Communications, pp. 389-395, New York: Springer. ISBN: 9781441916730
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