The many different applications of the Internet of Things (IoT), the new business models that IoT enables, and the issues involved in securing and regulating these were a big topic at last week’s. I was particularly interested in hearing about several new examples of IoT uses and more concrete ideas regarding regulations and security.
The Vast Internet of Things
One interesting panel covered some of
Sara Gardner of Hitachi Insight Group (above, second from the left) discussed using IOT to automate factories, to help companies move from selling products to offering services, and for improving “social infrastructure” like transportation and energy. Gardner discussed using IoT devices to improve safety in places like mines, where remote operation might help keep people safe, and things such as facial recognition on cows in agriculture, to improve herd management.
Eric Topol of the Scripps Research Institute (third from left) talked about “digitizing our bodies” using information taken from electrocardiograms, and devices to monitor conditions such as sleep apnea and ear infections. The goal is to anticipate problems before they occur, furthering preventative care. Usually, Topol said, this happens with wearables, not through sensors embedded in the body, though in some cases—such as preventing heart attacks—embedded devices may prove necessary.
Topol said the concept of the hospital as we know it today will change. Instead of waiting weeks to get an appointment with a primary care physician, he anticipates future doctor visits will often involve video chats and data exchange, possibly supplemented by a doctor visiting you. People should only have to go to a hospital for very specific procedures, like surgery. One issue, he said, is that a patient needs to own his or her data. Topol said that right now everyone has that data except for the patient; this situation has to change. “Medical technology will completely reboot healthcare,” he said.
Tom Barton of Planet Labs (far left) talked about the company’s goal of imaging all of the land area of the planet at least once a day using consumer electronics in order to build much smaller, much less costly satellites. Barton said the company has already launched fifty satellites and plans to launch another hundred. Most of the company’s customers today are in agriculture and government, and he described applications ranging from land use categorization and tracking deforestation to improving agricultural yield management and the size of the global food supply.
Smart Cities and Smart Seas
(Gaudette and Regas)
Another panel discussed the concept of “smart cities” and how this is much more complicated than it is often portrayed. Martin Powell of the Siemens Global Cities Centre of Competence discussed how using data to create “smart cities” might have different impacts than you would expect, such as how banning bikes in London would actually reduce pollution.
Mrinalini Ingram of Verizon talked about how citizens are now able to play a larger part in the process of managing cities. Moderator Gary Bolles mentioned that so many people use Waze in L.A. that residents in some newly-trafficked zones are complaining or trying to feed the app false information. Powell said that generally you can’t give citizens planning decisions, but you do need to take data, aggregate it, and control it at the municipal level.
Assaf Biderman of MIT’s SENSEable City Lab said citizens need to feel a sense of ownership of data, though some things can’t be voted on. He also said that many offerings won’t come from the cities themselves but will instead come from the outside.
A panel on “smart shipping” talked about bringing IoT concepts to shipping, with moderator Simone Ross noting that despite 90 percent of global trade moving on the oceans, this is a “data dead zone.” Peter Platzer of Spire Global talked about his company’s plans to use small satellites to traverse the ocean three or four times an hour instead of only a few times a day, while Anthony DiMare of Nautilus Labs discussed his firm’s plans to bring big data analytics to the shipping industry, asserting that Nautilus could use data and analytics to reduce fuel usage by as much as 30 percent.
John Kao of maritime security firm Thayer Mahan discussed the problem of visualization from the top of the ocean down, saying that this issue has important implications for mining, fishing, and geopolitical affairs. Platzer noted that there is currently $10 billion in annual piracy on the seas, and said 80 percent of the time we don’t know exactly where the ships are. Kao agreed with others that there are few laws and no overarching framework on maritime security, and talked about how we have little monitoring of undersea cables or ports.
All of the panelists agreed that in the years to come we must develop the ability to know more about the location of ships on the ocean, as well as what the conditions are underwater.
Another area covered was the power grid, and using IoT to combat climate change. Robert Gaudette of independent power provider NRG Energy said that IoT creates a whole lot of demand for energy, but also help us to manage the load on the grid.
Diane Regas of the Environmental Defense Fund said that some countries have now gone up to four days using only renewable energy, but agreed that IoT could open up new energy solutions, including allowing people to adjust both the demand side of energy as well as energy production. She addressed the issue of incentives for the utility companies and said this must change from utilities being rewarded in terms of how they invest, to the utilities being rewarded by performance, which would include how much they lower emissions.
(Tas and Tyson)
Perhaps the sector most ripe for change is health care. “We have a real opportunity to transform the health care system in this country, and indeed the world,” Kaiser Permanente CEO Bernard Tyson said. In the past year the majority of Kaiser interactions with patients took place using a “care anywhere” model; a secure “e-visit” over a phone, tablet, or PC, instead of a patient going to the hospital.
Tyson explained that Kaiser is a fully integrated system—it brings together insurance coverage and health care—and that this model is designed to facilitate prevention, early detection, and early treatment.
Philips CEO Jeroen Tas said that 80 percent of the cost of health care today is related to chronic disease, which is often influenced by social factors as well as personal choice. Today health care is reimbursed around acute events, but it should instead be covered based on the outcome. “If you pay for sickness, you get sickness; if you pay for health, you get health,” Tas said.
Tas suggested we need a new way of delivering care, and that much of it will no longer take place in a hospital. Instead, friends and families could be part of a new way of organizing care. He mentioned that the UK’s National Health System now has 1.5 million volunteers to assist with care.
Both men agreed that you can reduce health care costs, but only if you reimburse on outcomes, not on care, with Tyson noting that Kaiser doesn’t get more money by having more patients in its hospitals. Tyson noted that medical devices can augment humans, in terms of helping to make early detection available before a problem develops. As examples he mentioned warning about dehydration, measuring blood sugar in people with diabetes, and simply checking to determine if medications are being reordered properly, which gives an indication that they are being taken. (There was a suggestion that half of all medication is not actually consumed.)
Tas suggested that AI will play a bigger role in making sure the trail of diagnosis, treatment, and medication prescribed stays within the patient record, making it easier for doctors, patients, and clinicians to easily access pertinent information. He is seeing a lot of progress in this area, and in a couple of years, the systems will often support decision-making.
The Role of Government
In a separate conversation on IoT and the U.S government, Intel president Murthy Renduchintala envisioned an environment that fuses together computing, pervasive and ambient communications, and advanced machine learning. He talked about computing and intelligence at the edge of such an environment being able to contribute information to a central data repository and then receive aggregated information after it is processed.
Overall, he said, the U.S. does a good job of gathering information, but many other countries have a head start in areas like regulation for self-driving cars, or smart cities. In technology, the U.S. is doing a phenomenal job, but “in terms of harnessing technology, we’ve got some catching up to do.”
Renduchintala said areas such as autonomous driving, robots, and drones seem to demand some degree of legislative involvement, and talked about possibilities as to when such systems may go mainstream. He talked about three main areas where the government could get involved: basic legislation, or understanding what is happening and how the government can be catalyzing technology to move forward; a national R&D strategy, which is about making sure everyone is playing in the same sandbox, and especially in areas like autonomous driving and drone regulation; and finally, the government must play a key role when it comes to security, noting this isn’t just about the end device, but also about protecting information as it is transferred over very large networks.
Renduchintala said there is a burden on industry to better educate everyone concerned, including Congress. He expects to see an economic benefit from IoT, particularly in areas such as autonomous cars, because people spend a lot of time in traffic jams that could be better harnessed in productive areas.
GE and “Productivity of Things”
GE Digital’s Bill Ruh (right) talked. We are moving from a world where owning an asset is the value to one where the data and services around the asset are becoming more important. A few years ago, he said, GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt could see that the combination of data, AI, and statistics coming together could make assets more efficient and that a company that could figure out how to best maintain and use the assets had the potential to disrupt GE. So, the company decided to get out in front of this transformation. Over the next three to five years, every industrial company will go through this transition. “If they don’t, someone else will,” Ruh said.
Ruh discussed GE’s “digital twin” concept and said that while AI is great, it only addresses part of the problem unless you know the details of the actual physical device. Instead, the company combines modeling and AI to run simulations—starting with digital twins for wind farms, and then moving into other areas such as power plants and rail networks, with systems designed to figure out the order in which to move trains within a system. Many of these decisions were not intuitive, he said.
Overall, Ruh said, the most important takeaway has been the “productivity of things,” and said the three sexiest words in the industrial world are “zero unplanned downtime.”
Ruh said he worries about trade policies and data sovereignty, but that in the end, it’s a job issue. He noted that we have seen slower GDP growth and an increase in automation that has in turn driven down lower-skill jobs.
Ruh said that while automation will happen, we may see a shift from labor arbitrage automation to local content, with more manufacturing moving local, in part due to things such as additive manufacturing (3D printing). “We don’t know how it will play out,” he said. Ruh did say that regulation will be needed, but that it needs to be smart and not unintentionally block innovation.
Securing the Internet of Things
(Bartolomeo, Cooper, Eagan, Rill, Higginbotham)
Stacey Higginbotham of the Internet of Things Podcast moderated a session on IoT security and pointed to things like the recent Mirai botnet, which used millions of old connected webcams to produce a recent distributed denial-of-service attack that left many websites unreachable for some time.
Mark Bartolomeo, VP of Internet of Things M2M Connected Solutions at Verizon, agreed that security is a huge problem, but said it is a problem we’re solving. Bartolomeo pushed for more security standards for devices but said we also need network security, host and IT security, and better employee training. He said security is “a problem we’ll never stop working on,” pointing to Verizon’s recent study of 100,000 breaches. (Later, I had a good conversation with him about how quickly Verizon expects IoT to grow as connectivity prices decline, and also about the complexity of deploying such systems today and the need for better security.)
Betsy Cooper, executive director of the Berkeley Center for Long-Term Cybersecurity, said we cannot fully be secure. Her group works on many possible scenarios. There is always a risk of a small degree of failure, she said.
Darktrace CEO Nicole Eagan said there is no perimeter anymore, and agreed that if you have a sophisticated threat actor, they will get in. Instead, Eagan said, it is important to have visibility into devices to see what is going on and react accordingly. To that end, her firm’s product emulates the human immune system.
Chris Rill, co-founder and CTO at Canary, which makes a wireless home security product, said one big question is who you are trying to protect yourself from. Protecting systems from “script kiddies” is possible, he said, but defending against government actors is much harder. Rill said some companies like his really care about security, while others just treat it as a checkbox feature. While he hopes that in the future security will help drive demand for particular products, he admitted that consumers generally don’t ask for the most secure products.
The panel discussed various ways of making sure devices are secured, with a number pointing to ICSA certification in multiple layers of devices. Rill talked about how Canary specifically doesn’t open more ports than necessary, while Eagan talked about how connectivity concerns have led many devices, including most video conferencing systems and even nuclear power plants, to be vulnerable to specific attacks. She said if you can watch network traffic, you can detect anomalous behaviors early before damage is done, and that the next step will be “algorithm vs. algorithm,” particularly as nation-states start tapping into math experts to create their own AIs.
Regulation was also a big topic, with Cooper decrying the “balkanization of cybersecurity regulation.” Cooper said we need to get the right players in the same room, and suggested that the person in charge of cybersecurity at the White House should have elevated responsibilities. Eagan noted that lots of devices are not actually created in the U.S., and Rill talked about some of the steps Canary has taken to ensure it knew every component that goes into its product during their manufacture in China.