Friday, June 25, 2010

EU & China on the IoT Bandwagon. Where's the US?

Maybe I'm biased, seeing as how I seek out this kind of stuff. But it seems to me as though chatter regarding the Internet of Things is building everywhere.

Everywhere, except in the US.

Governments have even been jumping on the bandwagon. The Chinese Premier himself, Wen Jaibao, has been calling for rapid development in IoT technology since last August, and apparently mentions it regularly in speeches. The latest news is that the European Parliament has endorsed development of the Internet of Things and called for increased funding for pilot projects.

So, why hasn't the US paid more attention? I'd have to guess it has something to do with fighting two wars, trying to figure out how to stop oil spewing out of the Gulf, and struggling to recover from one of the all-time worst economies.

But that's not the most important roadblock we face in development of IoT technology. The biggest challenge is fear.

The US Congress is still in terrorist-fighting mode, discussing bills that would allow the government to "shut down the Internet" in an emergency situation. And the US people, still trying to figure out how to deal with poor stewardship of personal information by companies like Google and Facebook, are highly concerned about the privacy issues that are involved when we start putting network-aware sensors on all the stuff we use every day. While the rest of the world is striving to innovate, we're trying to stop the train.

That's not to say that these fears are unfounded, irrational, or unreasonable. Quite the contrary! We desperately need to be concerned about these things. They are critically important to democratic society. But trying to put the brakes on technology development is not going to solve the problem.

The only thing we know fore sure is that the technology will continue to advance. Within the next 10-20 years, the rest of the world will be powering their economies off the Internet of Things. The US simply needs to decide whether they want to lead technological innovation in this space, or let someone else do it.

But what's the right way to go about it? We need to take these issues head-on. We need to design networks that are resilient to attack without having to pull the plug on the whole thing. We need to get this privacy dialogue rolling and start making some proactive decisions, rather than complaining after the fact when companies don't protect our data in the way we think they should.

This is a legislative issue, and it should be on the agenda. But we can't wait for Congress to get there, and we can't expect them to suddenly overcome their horrible track record of keeping pace with social impacts of technology on society. We need to continue to set expectations for companies to use data in a responsible manner. If we don't, we have no one but ourselves to blame.

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