Megatrends and How to Survive Them #10 Connected World

Published by Patricia Lustig on

Megatrends and How to Survive Them is the title of our book published by Cambridge Scholars Publishing and available on Amazon.

This is one of a series of blogs based on the work we have done for the book. We chose Connected World as a topic for discussion because over the next decade the Internet of Things (IoT) will  become ubiquitous, and many industries will be re-shaped. International platforms will offer economies of scale, be everywhere and underpin globalisation of the private sector. Big Data, whether relating to individuals, money or IoT, will be the subject of three-way power struggles over ownership of data. We discuss all of these in the book, and in this blog we raise the question of systems design for the connected world.

A recent conference on the Connected World had streams on a number of applications – Connected Homes, Smart Cities, Internet of Things, Smart Buildings, Utilities, Smart Cars. It had streams on technologies – 5G, Blockchain, Artificial/Augmented intelligence, Virtual and Augmented Reality. It had a stream on insurance and another on cyber security.

Taking these in turn, what could prevent the applications delivering on their promise? Three challenges that we can see, are not widely discussed. The first is the design and verification of embedded devices. These need to have fail-safe characteristics so that if, for instance, power is lost, they are able to close down safely. These disciplines have been applied in process control systems but may be lost in the transition to consumer applications. The second is the overall system design – a nightmare as smart cities evolve, with diverse networks added over time. Is there a school of computing tackling this? Third is “user error”. As populations age and their visual acuity reduces and response times increase, systems designed and tested by young men may have many users who do not understand the implicit rules and use the system in ways not anticipated by the designers. And as migration continues, increasing number of users will be unfamiliar with the systems and the language in which they are asked to navigate them.

The discussions around autonomous cars highlight another concern – the switch from people control to system control and back. As autonomous cars become more prevalent, how do we transition from person in control with assistance, to total computer control? The intermediate stage, with the computer in control until it asks for help from the human, does not sound wise.

All of the technologies are likely to continue to be developed, led by consumer markets in Asia. This will raise concerns in the West about potential hidden spy features.

The last two, insurance and cyber security, raise in a more pointed form the issues which lurk beneath the success of the technologies and the applications to fulfil their potential: viz, the use of big data and the resilience and stability of these connected systems.

The use of big data as a tool for calculating insurance risk starts to raise the question of what is insurance for? If it is for sharing risk, how is this compatible with using big data to set premiums by post code – with big data on weather and crime; age and lifestyle – with big data on health outcomes; on personal genetics – with big data on genetic markers?

Cloud computing arrangements are becoming increasingly popular as organisations are attracted to the potential cost savings and enhanced flexibility that cloud computing services can offer. One of the most critical concerns of cloud computing is data security. Large scale scandals over breaches of security of cloud computing services could slow but not halt the use of ICT platforms.

Cyber-crime has a wider reach than just finance, as recent hacks into online services, health services and national security agencies have shown. However, most headlines are on crime relating to money, and here a recent survey by Kroll of 540 senior executives found that the majority of perpetrators of cyber-crimes were random criminals, ex-employees, competitors and employees. Less frequent were attacks by political activists, nation states or terrorists. However, these less frequent perpetrators may be the main threat for the IoT and for fraud relating to data. For instance, a hacker shutting a city down could lead to demands from citizens to go “off grid”.

Tackling cyber-crime when it crosses national boundaries is made more difficult in a Multi-polar World. Differing regulatory structures may lead to “Panama Papers” – databases outside any recognised regime and exposing individuals’ data to the world.

Questions for leaders:

  • What impact will a fully monitored environment have?
  • Cyber-attacks must be anticipated – what are your main sources of threat? What are your business continuity plans?
  • What is the role of personal data in your organisation?
  • How are you planning to scope out new types of competition?
  • The Connected Worldallows for remote control – what effect might this have?

We live in exciting times!

Authors: Patricia Lustig, MD LASA Insight and Gill Ringland, SAMI Emeritus Fellow and Director, Ethical Reading.