IoT and the implications of the Second Machine Age

The ubiquity of Internet connectivity is inescapable for many people today. Almost everyone has at least a smart phone, loaded with personal information and virtually limitless capability to interact with other devices; families can automate their home environments with climate control systems like Nest, security and safety cameras, smart entertainment systems that learn your watching preferences, and personal assistant devices like Amazon Alexa; people are becoming more aware of their own bodies and physical habits thanks to health monitors like Fitbit. Like Milo Werner described in lecture, the Second Machine Age is well upon us, and society has reached a point where technology not only automates and performs physical tasks that are difficult for humans, but also gives us the ability to learn about our own behaviors in ways that would have been impossible without so many devices collecting data [1].

As automation leads the way for society to become more productive and efficient, it is inevitable that the nature of the labor market will change as well. Werner quantified these shifts in several ways [1]: the divergence of increasing corporate profit and decreasing labor, the increasing gap in financial mobility based upon education level, and the decreasing proportion of the population that holds a growing percentage of global wealth. Amazon’s development of warehouse automation is an excellent example of how the need to perform tasks better and faster has driven change in the labor market. With its acquisition of Kiva (now Amazon Robotics), Amazon was able to transform its warehouse operations from backbreaking labor for its workers to a streamlined process that allows them to provide even faster services like Prime Now to customers [2]. While one may argue that this shift results in a loss of traditional work, it also creates the opportunity for individuals to take a different approach on their careers – work smarter, not harder.

While automation may be causing a decline in job value for traditional labor markets, there is one field that has been exploding due to the growth of IoT (and the increase in sensitive personal data moving across the Internet) – cybersecurity. Part of this is caused by a shift in Internet-connected devices from traditional computers to mobile platforms, be it smart phones, tablets, wearables, or other IoT gadgets. A study from SimilarWeb [3] shows this trend especially clearly in the past couple of years, as visits to websites from mobile platforms increased from 57% to 63% and mobile page views increased from 41% to 53%. The sheer complexity and number of data sources from IoT devices also contributes to the problem [4] – gone are the days when a hacker sought to steal information with a USB flash drive, because now there are paths to personal information through WiFi, Bluetooth, and NFC, between phones, laptops, health trackers, smart home devices, and more. While the risk for compromised personal data increases, systematic and infrastructural targets are becoming bigger as well. Cyber attacks are now much more dangerous as enterprise networks grow larger, whether they’re in the banking and finance industries, healthcare systems, and even government databases. Though these security issues pose a major threat to many individuals’ and societies’ livelihoods, the challenge of data protection and safety also creates a huge opportunity for an emerging market in cybersecurity.

[1] Milo Werner, 7/28/18.