Data is the 21st century industrial battleground
The first internet-enabled kettle must have seemed a marvellous thing. From an app on your phone, you could turn on your kettle from any room in the house, and the water would be freshly boiled by the time you reached the kitchen. Switch it on from your car when you were five minutes out, and you could cut five minutes off the tea making process when you arrived home. When the manufacturers realised they could embed this technology, they rushed to do so. Supposedly, though, the first few, in the rush to exploit the technology, missed out on the basics – and forgot about the necessity of adding a level sensor. Switching on your kettle when there is no water inside is never a good idea.
New technologies develop at such a pace that they are often well ahead of the ethics and safety policies that will govern them. Look at how long it took in the industrial space for electronic safety systems to be covered within the pages of the Machinery Directive. Manufacturers may have realised straight away how these technologies could help them to boost productivity and design better, safer systems, but it was a while before they could legally put them into practice.
In the wider smart technologies space, consider the autonomous car. We might be thinking that self-driving cars, outside of a few test projects, are still some years off from practical implementations, but the manufacturers could do it right now. What’s holding them back is a lack of a legislative framework, and an ongoing discussion on ethical considerations: if a car is in a situation where, whatever it does, it is going to crash into something, how will it choose the best course of action? And who will take responsibility? Initially, self-parking technologies have provided precedent: if a car prangs another vehicle when performing a self-parking manoeuvre, then the driver of the car is at fault, not the manufacturer of the vehicle, because the driver should always be in control. We can apply this same thinking to self-driving cars. But what will happen when cars are fully autonomous, when you choose not to have the car at home or to park it at work, but just to have it pick you up. If there is nobody in the car to take control in the event of an accident, who will the finger of blame be pointed at?
Long before we have the autonomous car on the roads, we can look forward to the connected car, vacuuming up data about the vehicle and how we drive it, and passing it on to anyone who needs to know. Same with the smart kettle, the smart fridge, the smart home, and quite probably, the smart factory. Who will own your data? Quite likely, it won’t be you; perhaps it never was. Data is valuable. A convicted hacker is said to have revealed that he could make more money in a day selling data than in a month selling cocaine.
The explosion of the Internet of Things is seeing a new race to define communication standards, and many of the biggest names in industry have formed alliances to try to make sure they win that race. To them you can add the likes of Google and Apple, who also want to win the race, and the reason is because they want your data. From the connected car to home automation, they want to own that space because the data it gives them is worth so much more than the cost of the hardware they implement it on. It would be no surprise if, quite soon, home automation systems were given away free of charge.
So wherever we are, whether we are in the industrial space or the consumer space, data is the new battleground. But let’s always remember that just because we can do a thing, doesn’t mean we always should do a thing. First we should justify why we’re doing it, and what we can expect from it, while always bearing in mind the safety and ethical considerations.
Mark Simms Editor
Industrial Technology - NEWS