Driving home late one recent night, Iencountered a radio talk show whose host had heard that the U.S.Transportation Department wanted on-board computers to becompulsory in autos in the not-too-distant future. The host wasworking himself into a lather about the potential privacyimplications of the government tracking you in your car, whollyunaware (until listeners phoned in to tell him) that virtuallyevery car on the road today already has an on-board computer. We(and he) need to move on to more important questions: How much morewill that computer be capable of in the not-so-distant future, whowill have access to the data it captures, and what other deviceswill have comparable capabilities?
IPv6 (Internet Protocol version 6) and HTML5 are both being rolledout now, and will bring substantial change to the Internet as weknow it:
The current “IPv4” architecture is beginning to run out of new IPaddresses. IPv6 expands the supply of distinct addresses nearlyinfinitely, which will support the transformation of consumer andindustrial devices ranging from tablets to automobiles to “smartbuildings.” When we have enough more numbers, they can be assignedindividually to a wide variety of appliances, equipment, buildings,etc. What the Europeans have begun to call the “Internet of Things”will enable commercialization of products such as the refrigeratorthat communicates your needs directly to your supermarket, orallows you to check your supply of milk remotely from a smartphone.It will also enable the Smart Grid (the two-way communicating powergrid) to interact with such devices, leading to new privacy issuesinside homes; the electric company will capture information aboutwhat appliances are running and when, and will be able to exercisesome control over the timing of usage of those devices for purposesof managing peak demand.
In parallel, the rollout of HTML5 will expand the vocabulary ofInternet programming. Many newer Internet functions such as videodisplay, audio recording, and database integration are notsupported natively in current HTML. These functions currentlyrequire browser “plug-ins” to be executed, but will be incorporatedfully in HTML5 without the need for plug-ins. That promises notonly the end of the “Flash wars” between Apple and Adobe, but alsovery much more functionality embedded in web-based interfaces forall kinds of devices. We have become accustomed to talking about”devices” in reference to smartphones, tablets, and computers, butincreasingly the relevant devices will be aircraft, washingmachines, dishwashers, automobiles, trucks, and more. How will theyhelp themselves to solve human problems? Consider this descriptionof the safety implications of “Connected Vehicles,” which really isfrom the U.S. Transportation Department:
“Connected vehicle safetyapplications are designed to … reduce or eliminate crashesthrough vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure(V2I) data transmission that supports: driver advisories, driverwarnings, and vehicle and/or infrastructure controls. Thesetechnologies may potentially address up to 82 percent of crashscenarios…”
A world of “smart devices” is no longerscience fiction; the transformation has begun and will maturesooner than we can imagine. Cars will find parking spaces on theirown, and will learn not to run into each other (or anything else)because they will have their own “social network” unencumbered byklutzy or distracted humans. I’ll never again run out of milk. Mydishwasher will wait to run itself at “off-peak” rates. Who knowswhat other unimagined wonders will become commonplace?
What’s the cost? Our personal privacy is at stake, to be balancedby our need for progress. “Online data gathering” is already asubject of concern. We need only imagine how much more profoundwill be the risks when virtually every device we use has its own”online” address and its own datafile. And yet, how powerful arethe potential gains, if we can actually prevent thousands of autoaccidents and similar misfortunes, and greatly increase personalconvenience to boot. In order to preserve our personal rights,while capturing the societal and individual benefits, datacollection and aggregation must be regulated and controlled foranonymization, far more effectively than has been the case up tonow in the United States.