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The Impact of the IoT on Society

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by Cees Links, GM of Qorvo Wireless Connectivity BU, Qorvo

I am often asked how the IoT will affect our lives. It’s a big question, but a good one. I sometimes want to reply with something like, “How will it not change our lives?” since that might be a shorter list. But instead, let’s look at five key ways that the IoT will affect society at large: jobs, security, energy efficiency, big data, and our bodies.

Jobs

Many companies don’t have the know-how or in-house talent to implement their new IoT strategies. This is good news for the job market. One obvious result is that people with skills that include high tech and data analytics will have no trouble finding employment over the next 5-10 years.

Less obviously perhaps, the IoT has the potential to affect the overall job market, as well as our lives, to a degree not felt since the Industrial Revolution and the rise of assembly-line production. The IoT’s network of connected devices will eventually take on many of the repetitive, drudge work tasks of today. Of course, there is a downside. Some of the people currently doing those tedious tasks will lose their jobs.

But it’s important to note that, to date, overall employment hasn’t appeared to decrease, despite considerable pessimism about the loss of jobs to automation. Clearly, change is very painful for those impacted. But overall, where jobs are lost, other jobs are created. It’s also important to look at the bigger picture. When machines do the grunt work, humans are able to solve bigger problems or spend their time in more interesting ways. This shift may well enable the next level of creative culture — the next space race, or a new Enlightenment, perhaps?

Security

“Will the IoT be secure?” It’s a loaded question, and the honest answer is probably “no.” In the same way that life and the Internet aren’t secure — the Internet of Things (IoT) won’t be secure.

Security follows the usual economic laws: the higher the security, the higher the cost. In theory, the cost of something should be in balance with its value. But it isn’t quite that simple. How do you determine the value in an IoT scenario? Ask a museum director for the value of a painting, or a parent about the value of a child home alone. And what about evaluating the risk? Spend a few minutes reading about the continuing string of data security breaches and it quickly becomes clear that we’re underestimating the risk.

Over the last few decades, security has been in a race with hackers. System complexity, and the lack of absolute end-to-end oversight, also play roles. Systems today are becoming so complex that holes in security are easily introduced — and when they’re identified, those holes need to be rapidly patched. Some suggest that this increasing complexity, and the costs associated with it, are the largest risk for being able to build secure systems. 

This dynamic situation forces us to constantly revisit current security measures. We don’t know what’s coming next and we can’t see the whole range of threats looming on the horizon. So how can we possibly know that we’re secure?

Despite how it may sound, there’s no need to despair. We all live our daily lives making reasonable assessments of how to stay out of trouble. This applies to the IoT as well.

Figure 1: IoT connected infrastructure

Energy Efficiency

One distinct benefit of the IoT is that it’s generally available to every area of the economy, and this particularly holds true for energy efficiency improvements. Connecting devices, gathering data and personalizing the technology is the basic premise of the IoT, regardless of whether we’re looking at a large commercial office tower, a medium-sized apartment building or a single-family home. The IoT’s scalability results in energy efficiency benefits for all.

The IoT promises “intelligent buildings,” where management has the ability to view overall building operations and receive the data needed to improve efficiency, lower costs and improve the experience for both management and tenants.

From the homeowner’s perspective, rising energy costs in the form of ever-higher utility bills are obviously a common concern. Using more energy than is really needed is problematic for our wallets, as well as for the environment.

The list of smart home energy savers is extensive and includes automated schedulers that shut down electronics overnight, sensors that turn lights on when people enter a room and off when people exit, and even smart power systems that monitor and manage how and when power is consumed.

There are also some less obvious energy efficiency advantages that the IoT can offer to businesses and consumers. What about unexpected expenses like accidents and equipment failures? A smart water heater, for example, can alert the homeowner about potentially costly and damaging leaks and control the power and water systems to prevent expensive repairs.

Big Data

With all the talk about big data, you often hear the comment, “How can a deluge of data create value?” Using the example of electric motors in industrial environments may shed some light.

Factories are equipped with electric motors for all kinds of jobs: lifting, pressing, pumping, sucking or drying — basically everything that can be done with motion. Electric motors are the workhorses of industry today. They’re also used in areas that are too dusty, dangerous or difficult to reach by human effort. 

Electric motors are mechanical devices, so it’s no surprise that they go down occasionally. And of course, there’s never a good time for that, especially when you keep in mind that one motor going down sometimes means a whole production line going down. 

To reduce unexpected downtime, factories employ costly maintenance crews. Preventative maintenance is one approach, meaning maintenance usually occurs too early (although occasionally too late).

A much better approach is condition-based maintenance, with AI and the IoT. Here, every electric motor on a factory floor is equipped with sensors that are wirelessly connected to a control database that continuously collects data about the motors. The database can use AI to learn normal behavior for every motor and then, after a typically short period of learning, it can generate immediate alerts when deviations from that normal occur. In other words, the IoT combined with AI not only sees problems coming, it continuously scans for problems.

Health & Sports

And finally, the IoT will affect each of us physically. From healthcare applications like remote monitoring of vital bodily functions, to smart sensors that give us and our doctors real-time data about illnesses, and wearables that integrate medical devices, the IoT will work to keep us healthier, safer and on the receiving end of improved care delivery.

Athletes, from pros to weekend warriors, will improve the way they practice, play and compete. IoT connected devices will track performance and monitor our bodies in ways that will help all levels of athletes to meet and exceed goals. Maybe I’ll finally achieve the exact right grip on my driver (equipped with sensors that detect and give feedback on every millimeter of change in my hand position) to get my golf handicap into single digits!

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