Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Max Headroom Highlighted IoT Risks

Max Headroom Highlighted IoT Risks

Max Headroom knew one reason why the Internet of Things might fizzle out.

The 1980’s TV show was saturated with remotely-accessible cameras. Called "securicams" in the TV series, they seemed accessible to any hacker who could merely determine their location number. Our IoT future may be similarly vulnerable to a greater number of unauthorized points of access.

It seems that every company is looking to network-enable their products and services with the promise of increased functionality and ease of use.

I count myself among the throng of pundits who is excited for the potential that we can control and manage physical devices remotely, and use embedded intelligence to automate certain decisions.

But we can’t deny the risks. It’s time to use our imaginations to anticipate and head off problems before they stem the flow of innovation.

For example, privacy violations may become a substantial objection to the deployment of IoT connectivity and accessibility. Do you really want to be tracked everywhere you go? The primary objection to traffic cameras in Los Angeles has been that they reveal cheating spouses in the act of being unfaithful.

Likewise, personal safety is a growing concern. I was shocked to see recent video clips of a drone aircraft sporting a handgun with remote-firing capability. If the bad guys are able to carry out their ill will without the risks of being physically present, we have to thwart the basic connectivity required to internet-enable those devices.

A few years ago, I had a client in the mining industry who was keen to change the way that his company bought large earth-moving equipment. Such machinery was the most expensive capital expense items of his business; they were difficult to operate, expensive to maintain, and often killed people accidentally.

My client sought to move from a capital expense that required his company to own and operate those huge pieces of machinery, and shift to an operating expense model whereby his company contracted for a turnkey service.

The vision was to avoid taking ownership of capital equipment and contract for autonomous vehicle operations. My client wanted to pay for tons of earth moved. They would specify the geographic coordinates of the desired hole to be dug, and the service provider would remotely operate the digging operation as a contracted service. 

In this way, the client would avoid the costs, complexities and human risks of owning and operating equipment. The service provider would take on all the risks customary with being in a fee-for-service business.

Making this concept happen required video technologies, analytics engines, low-latency control networks, and some serious expertise in integration. The resulting shift in economic model – notably around the assumption of capital expense responsibility and operating risks – was a material change for the buyer and provider of the “autonomous vehicle operations” services.

Just as significant was the reduction in risks to the people who work in the mines.

For now, these two visions remain in conflict. On the one hand, IoT innovation can reduce risks and make business safer. On the other hand, IoT has the potential to increase risks and make the world more dangerous.

We will be wrestling with such conflicts for years to come. But if you follow the news carefully, you will see that tensions are already rising between innovation for good and innovation that could go very, very wrong.


Peter Allen has many years of operating experience as a top executive and strategic advisor for companies of all shapes and sizes, with focus on technology-enabled business services. He is now a Boston-based Managing Director at Alvarez & Marsal.

Image: Duncan/Flickr