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Re: <nettime> Philosophy of the Internet of Things
Florian Cramer on Sun, 27 Apr 2014 23:01:10 +0200 (CEST)


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Re: <nettime> Philosophy of the Internet of Things


Hello Rob,

There seem to be a few problematic assumptions in the text:

> The Internet of Things (IoT) is an umbrella term used to describe a next
> step in the evolution of the Internet. While the first phase of the web can
> be thought of as a combination of an internet of hyper-text documents and
> an internet of applications (think blogs, online email, social sites,
> etc.), one of the next steps is an Internet of augmented ?smart? objects ?
> or ?things? ? being accessible to human beings and each other over network
> connections. This is the internet of Things.

This paragraph is mixing up the World Wide Web (http) with the Internet
(TCP/IP and UDP). The Internet as such is nothing but a global open
standard and infrastructure for networking computers with each other.

When the term "Internet of Things" was coined in the late 1990s, there was
still a strong divide between a "computer" and other sorts of electronic
devices. Nowadays, many if not most electronic devices (from phones to
cameras to traffic sensors)  are factually Internet-enabled micro
computers.

This is, on the one hand, a proof that the 1990s Internet of Things
prediction was correct. On the other hand, one could argue that the term
has become obsolete because "computers" take the shape of all kinds of
expected and unexpected things. If one can no longer differentiate between
an "Internet of computers" and an "Internet of devices", then the question
is what "Internet of Things" can still meaningfully signify.

Another question is that of future scenarios:

> Underpinning the development of the Internet of Things is the ever
> increasing proliferation of networked devices in everyday usage. Such
> devices include laptops, smart phones, fridges, smart meters, RFIDs, etc.
> The number of devices in common usage is set to increase worldwide from the
> current level of 4.5 billion to 50 billion by 2050 and may even include
> human implants.

Isn't that, still, a view of the future as it has been imagined in the
1990s and 2000s? For sure, an expansion of Internet-connected devices
underway especially in industrial applications. On the other hand, aren't
events such as the disclosures about NSA's Prism program or the recent
Heartbleed OpenSSL security nightmare indicative of a trend against blind
Internet-ification of all kinds of devices and technologies?

To name an example: I learned that the Dutch levee system is nowadays
consisting of a network of Internet-controlled sensors and pumps. The
sensor broadcast their measuring data via an encrypted VPN connection to a
nation-wide data center which in turn sends back control instructions to
the pumps. If this VPN had been run on OpenSSL (and it's quite possible
that it is), anyone could have hacked it and literally flooded the country.

These risks have been known for a long time, but now even non-experts -
including policymakers and industry CEOs - are likely to understand them.
The logical conclusion is to not expose critical infrastructures to the
Internet by hardware design. The same is true for industrial
infrastructures, both for the sake of operational security and safety from
industrial espionage.

The question is whether this will eventually lead to correction of
optimistic Internet of Things predictions.

> For as computational devices become ever more central to how we relate to
> and interface with each other,

That is really the question. Will the growth of computational technologies
remain to be primitive quantitative growth, or will it turn into a
qualitative growth where computerization and Internetworking of devices,
and areas of life, will be carefully evaluated for each case and
application?

A good example, again from the Netherlands, how computer experts can
soundly turn against computerization as such was Rop Gonggrijp's campaign
against voting machines. Its radical philosophical implications - that
computers, with today's computer architecture, are by definition machines
whose information isn't manipulation-proof and thus can never be trusted -
still doesn't seem to have sunk in.

> The design and deployment of the Internet of Things is thus not simply a
> matter of software/hardware architecture but also of politics; ethics;
> belief; citizenship; and social and civic relations.

Indeed! -

Bests,
Florian


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