Timothy M. Denton

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The Internet of Things: Interconnected concatenated catastrophe?

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I thought that title would get your attention. How often does your computer crash? Right. Does it matter? yes, quite a bit, if you lose data or files or a year's worth of work. But no one dies. Now just think about your house going cold in winter, your brakes failing, the power grid going off, your water supply being contaminated, or airplanes crashing.

The world is becoming a vast robot, and the Internet of Things is the name of this robot. Bruce Schneier has written a timely article on this subject called "Click here to kill everyone". Karen Rose of  the Internet Society wrote a less alarming white paper on the subject two years ago, evaluating the nature of the risks in equivalent terms, but declining to recommend particular remedial steps.

Interconnected concatenated catastrophe. It is no use arguing that we are not building the Internet of Things. Computers have been invented, and the Internet is connecting them. Computers are everywhere, and everything is becoming computer-driven. As a friend once remarked, we are becoming the Borg.

The Internet of Things comports risks. Precisely what risks we cannot precisely foretell, but we know for a certainty, given the state of computer insecurity, that an interconnected world where incentives to get the bugs out of software are missing or deficient, and physical things will break up, fail, and fly apart from software failures or sabotage, that disasters will ensue.

They are as predictable as flash flooding in Oklahoma, or ice storms in eastern North America.

It is not the intention of this little posting to prescribe anything other than this: it is time to start paying attention to this issue. I hope that the proposed solutions will be incremental, decentralized, standards-based, and derive from multi-stakeholder processes. That is the democratic liberal in me talking, but I hope we start a process and a discussion soon, and if I could flick a switch and get a process underway, I would. We need to trim sails and adjust course for a squall line approaching fast.

 

 

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Timothy Denton is a lawyer by training who practices principally in telecommunications and Internet policy and domain name issues, with a strong concentration on explaining what the technology is and what it means.

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Guest Friday, 21 July 2017
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