Electronic Product Design

Tuesday, 03 March 2015 00:00 Written by

Smart CityThe Dangers of Making Everything Smart

Or, ‘The issues we will surely be encountering on a wider-scale as more and more devices are brought online through increased embedded computing, higher quality measurable devices and the incremental advance of the Internet of Things’ – but that title isn’t quite as succinct.

Power Grids Could Be Susceptible

The sheer amount of data continually generated by digitising each and every aspect of our lives is difficult to comprehend. Ensuring that that data remains safe from malicious entities is another scenario entirely.

The data generated by each household already feeds into Big Data algorithms to facilitate power companies planning strategies for energy purchasing, engineering and network upgrades. Contained within that data is almost every detail of our lives: appliance usage, patterns of movement, numbers of people living in a dwelling – even details such as religious observance can be gained from studying smart electricity meters.

Smart electrical data is an extremely efficient way of understanding the overall situation of household. There are few other modes of data transmission we cannot realistically live without on a daily basis (unless we shift our mode of living), that could give potential prying eyes information. The information increase following massive power-grid networking upgrades will slowly become an eventuality, allowing networks to become more efficient as they grow.

It’s Never As Bad As All That

It’s really not and we wouldn’t want to terrify individuals or families into fearing technology in the home. The increased dependence on Big Data methodologies and analytics has turned many age-old industries into relative data goldmines – whilst simultaneously changing the very nature of the business the data-holders are in.

Increasingly, big businesses are seeking to understand more about how their collection of data can positively affect their practices, but similarly are having to enforce robust data protection practices to maintain the privacy of their customer base. It creates an interesting situation where all companies are developing a massive secondary input/output for data, data protection and data mining practices.

Will It Change Our Own Data Use?

Consider the many ‘free’ services we take use of online. Facebook, Google, YouTube, Twitter et al are all funded by our data, the data we agree to give them freely in exchange for their services. They improve their services, we use the service more, and the big wheel spins around.

But in the service industries, especially with national infrastructure, we already pay directly to the companies we need to, as well as government subsidies to keep these businesses interested in network infrastructure upgrades. As digital consumers our track record of leveraging our data for personal or collective benefit is pretty poor. We are largely more than happy to hand over the increasingly poignant traces of our lives to ensure that everything runs smoothly.

Will our transition into the digitised, smart-grid follow the same pattern or will we, as the data holders, attempt to lower our electrical prices in exchange for the constant flow of data? As individual users, in this situation, we are almost nothing. Not in a ‘we don’t matter’ way, but in a ‘power companies look at the collective regional data and make assumptions based upon this data’ way.

As nothing has been proposed yet and we don’t know exactly what is coming, it is difficult to imagine what is in store. But it is equally difficult to imagine providing your electricity provider the same level of data access we give Facebook or Twitter to keep our social lives moving – though if we were all offered free flowing electricity, who would say no?

Image courtesy of: Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee / FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

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