At what price is connectivity?

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At what price is connectivity?

A friend of mine is an early adopter, and he was set on getting an Apple Watch. The wearable device came with a hefty price tag, but it sold out minutes after release. The craze was different, and possibly bigger, than people lining up for hours in front of Apple stores for new iPhone models. I couldn’t help feeling curious about a product that made so many people crave it.

The Apple Watch is a platform on the wrist. It turns out smartphones are not the ultimate personal media. When Apple’s peerless design was combined with technology, the world ended up on my wrist. The haptic technology was smooth and the upgraded sensor technology right on. The watch keeps my schedule like a personal assistant and reminds me to exercise like my mom. If my heartbeat goes too high or there are other signs of health risks, it is programmed to send emergency alerts. I don’t need to carry a key anymore. Or a purse. The smart watch is more personal than a smartphone.

It’s only been 20 years since the Mosaic web browser began connecting the world. Now, more than 4,000 exabytes of information is on cloud storage and mobile signals cover more than 90 percent of the earth’s surface. Every decade, we experience innovation. The PC revolution led by Microsoft in the 1990s was followed by the Internet powered by Google, Amazon and Facebook in the 2000s. Since 2010, Apple’s smartphone has changed the world. And the Internet of Things (IoT) will surely be the next big thing.

What will the world of IoT be like? It will be a world in which everything is connected to everything, from people to cars to buildings, roads, the environment, animals, plants, stores, hospitals, banks and virtually anything relevant to our lives. When connectivity is added to various things, new value is created.

For instance, a smart home controls its energy use and security, as well as entertainment and various communication devices through one server. Google’s Nest service is an artificial intelligence that studies the life pattern of the user, controlling the temperature, lighting and mood automatically.

IoT will extend way beyond homes. It is rapidly creating an open eco-system by connecting traditionally offline businesses, such as factories, offices and hospitals. Factories maximize production using sensors and robots while unmanned vehicles make deliveries. Drones can reach hard-to-access places. Social infrastructure uses sensors to predict disasters and respond to accidents more efficiently.

Productivity and efficiency will improve enormously across societies. Unless one chooses to refuse the benefits of civilization, no one can avoid being surrounded by IoT. Personal well-being is evidently improved by IoT. Remote monitoring of the health conditions of individuals in real time will become ubiquitous, and those with wearable devices can expect immediate assistance when they are in accidents. Before the patient reaches the emergency room, the doctor on duty will already have their medical records.

Will everything be good in the world of complete connectivity? By 2030, an individual is expected to be surrounded by 3,000 to 5,000 smart “things.” Such ultra-connectivity cannot be achieved without artificial intelligence, and the companies with the most powerful technology will be at the center of the networks. We are entering an age of technocracy, which is led by giants like Google and Apple. Humanity is handing over absolute power to technology without realizing it.

Moreover, we live under a kind of voluntary surveillance 24 hours a day. Just like the Panopticon of 18th century social theorist Jeremy Bentham, being at the center allows surveillance of every individual’s privacy. Our private lives become data and turn into a type of currency in the new economy.

The price of convenience does not stop there. Being connected means being exposed, while software is hackable. Security specialists say is no software invulnerable. I’ve seen a car being hacked at a convention of security experts. First doors, then gauges and, last, brakes became dysfunctional. Do potential future users realize that an insulin pump or pacemaker could someday be an easy murder weapon?

The real-time cyber warfare provided by website IPViking shows how safe the software we rely on really is. Attacks and defenses are going on at this very moment. Cyberbattles supported by states or anonymous hackers pick targets based on ideology or national interest. But it seems so obvious that the scope of cybercrime will amplify as IoT expands.

We have to think again before buying another smart device, signing up for a new IoT service or nonchalantly turning on Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. Are we inviting a devil into our homes and bodies? Angels and demons always come together in the history of technology.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff


*The author is the director of the Art Center Nabi.

by Roh Soh-yeong

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