The Internet as we know it today is very different to what it was even just twenty years ago. Gone are the days of slow and irritating dial-up connection that freezes whenever someone is making a phone call.
Thanks to the Internet, the world has gone through an explosive phase of growth in technology, commerce and communication. This growth, however, has been possible through the use of collecting, analysing and effectively using people’s data to advertise products and services that are personalised to them. But as corporates horde more and more data and use it for their own personal gains, privacy and trust have become the number one concern for the masses. The question is, has the Internet finally entered its dark ages?
This article discusses the evolution of the internet and the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) and also debates whether the latter is inherently good or bad for society.
Evolution of the Internet and origins of IoT
English computer scientist Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the WorldWideWeb while working at the prestigious CERN in the 1990s. On 23 August 1991, the Web was released to the public marking the beginning of the Internet.
The mid-90s saw the introduction of web browsers like Netscape. This was the beginning of static web pages with limited interactivity and the ability to create content.
Over the past 15-20 years, the boring web pages of Web 1.0 are no longer the norm and have been replaced Web 2.0’s interactive, socially connected, and user-generated content.
Web 2.0’s exponential growth was due to innovations like mobile internet access, touchscreen devices, high-speed internet connections and smartphones. These innovations led to the dominance of an apps-based economy and companies like Facebook, Airbnb, Instagram, Twitter, and Amazon all excelled. However, as their popularity grew, more and more users started using these apps for their convenience in return for their private data. Web 2.0 also saw the beginning of smart and connected devices such as smart speakers, smart lightbulbs and smart fridges.
The next iteration of the web/internet is Web 3.0 built with fundamental concepts such as decentralisation, openness, and greater user utility. Berners-Lee presented the idea of Web 3.0 back in the 90s. The defining features include:
- Decentralisation – Using decentralised and distributed databased instead of the currently trend of centralisation . This would mean that no central authority has control over everyone, and users have control over their privacy and data
- Trustless and Permissionless – Allowing direct interactions with other users without the need for a middleman and no permission or authorisation will be needed from a governing body to participate in the network
- Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine learning (ML) – AI and ML will play a key role in Web 3.0, allowing faster and more results to be generated
- Connectivity and Ubiquity – Multiple applications and devices will be connected simultaneously allowing information and content to be transferred in a seamless and ubiquitous way. Adoption of IoT devices will keep increasing but in a safe and decentralised manner
Rising demands for IoT Devices
On a top level, there seems to be almost no stop to the IoT market’s growth. A market report authored by Grand View Research, Inc, the world’s largest and most trusted BI enabled market research database, predicts that the Smart Home Market size will be worth $537.01 billion by 2030.
More and more people are opting for smart devices such as Amazon Alexa and Google Nest to make their lives easier. For example, if you wanted to buy a new hair dryer, previously you would have researched on the internet, gone to different comparison sites and finally chosen one after a lot of consideration. Now you can just tell Alexa to recommend the top three and it will give you a specific suggestion based on your budget, reviews and preference of colour.
Another example would be a smart fridge/freezer that automatically orders food through Amazon or another online grocery delivery store. It can keep an account of the inventory and create a list of items that can automatically be ordered with minimal effort.
The decision-making process of buying products is becoming outsourced to these AI-driven smart devices, loading them with more personal and private data just to save a few minutes of their lives. Big tech giants are essentially capitalising on our laziness!
Benefits and Potential Risks of IoT devices
There is absolutely no doubt that IoT devices are there to help us and also make our life easier. Increasing productivity is a major benefit, as these devices save time on our day-to-day tasks. Also, IoT devices help keep track of our fitness, health and nutrition by monitoring how much we are exercising and what we are eating. All of these aspects can help us to keep a solid grasp of our mental and physical well-being.
However, our persistent reliance on these devices could mean that in the long term we become lazy and stop doing even the simple things like walking upstairs to turn the light off. This stops us from doing basic exercises that we need to do in order to maintain ourselves. A more concerning example is that our children are growing up with these ‘always on’ devices that listen to what they are saying. All the data collected are being used against us and our kids through hyper-specialised ads and targeting. Every preference of the entire family is monitored, tracked and used against them, giving them the ‘perception of choice’ which we all know is not the case!
The Ideal World
You might be asking, ’Is there anything that we can actually do?’. The answer is yes! First and foremost, learn about all these new technologies and understand what the ‘small print’ means. Secondly, keep pressure on your governments to in turn put pressure on these tech giants to stop using your private data. However, if you are happy to have your data used for the betterment of the technology you should get paid by these companies to use your data. Thirdly, learn about Web 3.0 technologies and opt-in for decentralised and consensus-based technologies. For example, Brave browser is a search engine that is faster than Google Chrome, private and built using decentralised technology.
In an ideal world, you will not be concerned about privacy as you will have total control over your data and how it is used. All IoT technologies will be decentralised, and you will be able to do business or interact with others directly, without needing anyone’s permission or the fear of being monitored. AI and ML, built as part of these systems, will work based on your preference, and provide you with information faster and in a more organised fashion. As there is no centralised database, the likelihood of your data being hacked will be minimal and you will have a safer experience on the internet. As platforms like Ethereum give preference to applications that are coded efficiently and penalise the ones that aren’t, the experience of the new age of the web/internet will be a lot smoother and faster.
From a business point of view, faster and more seamless internet means that we will likely see newer business models emerge. As there are no middlemen, customers can have direct interaction with businesses, meaning lower costs of contracts (thanks to mutually trusted smart contracts) and faster transactions. This ability to directly interact with anyone means that businesses will need to have a unique and distinct brand strategy that communicates their benefits in the right way to attract and retain their customers. As the technologies will keep evolving, the brand identity will play a pivotal role in shaping these new-age businesses.
We are still in the early stages of these IoT technologies and by voicing your opinion you help shape the industry for future generations. However, until we get back control of our own data, perhaps the ‘smart’ thing would be to just get out of your couch and turn that light off.
At Evolve, we work with innovative businesses that are building world-leading technologies. We help them scale by simplifying their technical ideas into unique and well-positioned brand communication pieces. Reach out to us if you want to scale your business!