The Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence

    Bill Howard
    Manager of IT Services

    Since the 90’s, the Internet has been a great tool for communications and information about practically any topic you can think of. The internet has become more interactive since we started using more “Internet of Things” or IOT devices, which provide the ability for “Artificial Intelligence” or AI to start controlling things in our lives.

    Over the past few years, monitoring devices categorized as IOT have greatly increased. It started with wearable devices such as heart rate monitors and step counters and these devices caught on quickly and became popular holiday gifts. IOT devices come in many other forms such as Nanny-Cams, thermostats, light bulbs, garage door openers, refrigerators, and smart speakers like Amazon’s Alexa or Google’s Assistant. Those are just a few items that are commonly found in consumer homes. You may not notice IOT devices in commercial use yet you likely interact with them daily. Devices such as inventory sensors, traffic cams, people counters, and even intelligent soap dispensers are devices designed to help us in one way or another.

    Traffic cams are installed along the roadways and they track traffic patterns and alert problems such as accidents or disabled vehicles. We use the data collected by the traffic cams with apps like Waze or Google Maps. With a little help from AI, traffic jams can be avoided and/or emergency personnel can respond in the most efficient manner. Our cars even get in on the action by supplying data collected by onboard sensors. These onboard sensors may indicate how many passengers are in an accident or what type of damage to the vehicle has occurred. This data helps determine what type and how many emergency personnel should respond.

    Inventory sensors are placed on items to track them from the manufacturer to the retailer, then ultimately to the consumer. Sensors keep a constant eye on inventory and can be used to determine when a product may run out of stock or is placed in the wrong location in a store. Newer surveillance cameras can identify you using facial recognition software and track where you travel within a store. It is no longer unimaginable to walk into a store, place items in your basket and leave. Your items will be tracked and billed to your account without any interaction with a person or Do-It-Yourself check-out system. The AI will know who you are, what you are buying, and if you have enough money in your account to cover your purchase.

    People counters are being used in hospital emergency rooms so that we can be alerted to wait times for emergency care. Other places such as highway rest areas are also using people counters to alert drivers to the number of spaces available at the nearest rest area. Billboards along the highway are presenting real time data in both instances. There are even sensors in public restrooms to track how much activity has gone on and how soon a cleaning or supply refill service may be needed.

    You may have seen law enforcement vehicles outfitted with cameras on all four corners. The cameras are all capturing images of license plates and automatically running them through databases, searching for potential violations. The officer will receive an alert if there is a need to stop a vehicle. Banks and repossession companies are using the same technology to find and recover vehicles due to non-payment.

    Of course, with all great inventions comes the potential for misuse, whether intended or not. We as users of technology do not always consider the consequences of our actions. My goal today is not to scare anyone away from these technologies; I wish only to welcome you to Orson Welles’ 1984 and educate you of the need to be careful with your personal privacy.

    You may have heard about hackers that take control of Nanny cams or children’s toys to spy on or interact with children. You also may have heard stories of soured relationships where abusers take advantage of previously installed technology to harass their former significant others by remotely controlling furnaces, lights, and entertainment systems. These are all reasons to setup all available security options for all IOT devices. If you experience the ending of a personal relationship, I highly recommend you update passwords to all devices in the home.

    This year we saw Mark Zuckerberg face the world about concerns of the release of our personal data that is collected via Facebook. Looking back, maybe we as users should not have provided information we wouldn’t normally share with the public, and we shouldn’t have assumed that services such as Facebook can be free to consumers and still be profitable. Zuckerberg has attempted to explain that Facebook’s business model is based on selling targeted advertising, and when we submitted our personal information and agreed to the fine print, we ultimately allowed our data to be sold to advertisers in exchange for the use of their service. Facebook has placed most of the blame for our data misuse on their partners and Facebook’s ability to police them. You should be aware that Facebook is still collecting and selling our data although they have told us that they are doing a better job of vetting their vendors and partners.

    Facebook Portal, a relatively new personal video communications device, is now available and is sure to be a hit this holiday season. It is available in two versions and discounts are being offered if bought in pairs. Facebook has stated that your video conversations will not be monitored or recorded in any way. That does not mean that data will not be collected about who you had a conversation and how often you speak to them, or topics you may have searched using the Alexa feature. I caution you to be aware as all devices like these are always on, listening, and collecting data. Please be aware of where you install these devices and the conversations you have around them.

    We wish for you to maintain a safe and secure computing environment that serves you well. Please contact us if you have any questions.