At Cisco Live in San Francisco last month, I attended a panel discussion on the Internet of Things (IoT), where the participants talked of an impending tidal wave of Internet-connected devices and data that could overwhelm data centers and cloud infrastructure. But I don't believe that IoT adoption -- and ultimately cloud growth -- is as absolute as many make it out to be. In fact, I feel that we're actually in for a backlash against IoT, which could seriously impact the predictions and even stall cloud growth forecasts.
The panelists included startup entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and healthcare IT forward-thinkers, all who painted a picture a mind-blowing "everything-connected" world. In fact, most agreed that in the not-too-distant future, IoT devices will not only become more integrated into our daily lives, they will actually begin making decisions for us.
As I looked around to gauge reactions to these comments, I was happy to spot several other uncomfortable faces in the audience. If IoT concerns can be spotted at a major tech conference, you can bet that there will be a substantial backlash from the public as a whole, which will cause lofty IoT growth speculation to fall short. And since IoT is tailor-made for cloud computing, this part of IT also will fall well short of predictions.
According to panelist estimates, within the next five years, our Internet-connected devices will not only augment our personal decision-making processes, they will go one step further to bypass our personal judgment and make decisions for us -- for example, a device that monitors food intake. Had too much to eat at the buffet the night before? Your smartphone will predetermine tomorrow's lunch and order a nice healthy salad for you. The concept is similar to calorie-counting apps that are available for smartphones today, but the future gives us a completely automated system -- one that hands decision-making control over to software stored in the cloud.
While some may see this as progress, I see tremendous danger. First, do we not trust ourselves to make decisions as opposed to letting an artificial intelligence (AI) dictate that for us? Second, if software preempts our own brains by making "mundane" decisions for us, don't we lose part of what's great about being human? If we blindly follow what AI tells us is the "right" decision, we'll likely end up all making the same life choices.
And by letting our brains take a back seat on even the smallest decisions, we're doing ourselves a great disservice. Oftentimes it's the smallest choices -- good or bad -- that end up sending our life in a completely different direction. It's these different life choices that differentiates one person from another and fosters different ways of thinking, creating and innovating.
It's not simply the artificial intelligence and "life hacking" IoT dangers that are worrisome. Another critical issue involves the mass aggregation of big data and the abuse of power by those who collect it.
For example, suppose data from a food intake app is collected and stored in a cloud. And for whatever reason, this information gets into the hands of health insurance providers or government that provides healthcare to citizens. Being that these two groups have a vested, monetary interest in keeping us fit to keep down health care costs, it's entirely possible that our premiums or taxes could go up if we fail to meet an imposed level of healthy eating.
This is not only possible with health care, but also with many other facets of our lives. If we make decisions that do not align with what a corporate or government entity mandates, we could be punished for it.
If you pay close attention to news stories today, you can see cases where IoT backlash is already simmering. On a daily basis, you can read about concerns with technologies such as smart meters and Google Glass, as well as growing distrust governmental electronic surveillance. At one time, these were opinions expressed only by a small fringe group of conspiracy theorists. Most of us are now concluding that these concerns are very real and the issues can no longer be swept aside.
While I absolutely love technology and use it regularly, I foresee two distinct camps forming with IoT. On one side, there are those who will fully embrace IoT, throwing caution to the wind in order to take advantage of all the time saving potential a fully connected universe holds. On the other, side, there will be those who take a far more cautious approach and use technology, big data, and the cloud only up to the point where it can aid in decision making, but no further.
And if this does indeed happen, you can forget about the exponential growth predictions of IoT and cloud computing. Instead, expect a more reasonable growth rate. Mark my words: People will soon wake up and realize that technology should be used as a tool to further expand human individuality and privacy, not destroy it.