Last week Newcastle IoT Pioneers had their first gathering for 2018. I took the opportunity to reveal some stats from the recent group survey, and then dove into four themes that I expect to define the Internet of Things in 2018. You'll note that the darlings Blockchain and AI are missing, since I find those as deep and timeless as relational databases and statistical regression - very useful tools worthy of investigation, not but not necessarily of urgency or awe.
Instead, the themes I selected struck me as being likely to dictate the direction of the Internet of Things, and do so over the next twelve months. Their presentation raised some curious discussion on the night, so I thought I'd share with a wider audience.
The first was the old hot button, privacy. While it's hard to think of a year in recent history where privacy scandals haven't provided world changing ramifications, there are a couple of reasons it made the hot theme list this year.
- The implicit assumption that consumers are in charge of making their own decisions about privacy is eroding. The IoT is defined by pervasiveness, which means that privacy intrusions are becoming a way of life.
- The GDPR begins enforcement in May. This will have an enormous impact on business' ability to derive value from data, which underpins much of the IoT. 52% of companies believe they will be fined for non-compliance.
The second hot theme is Algorithmic Bias. It is the result of entrusting data with our decision making, with less and less human oversight. Data, when it reflects human behaviour, is representative of human bias. Making decisions based on biased data reinforces those biases, leaving us with unexpected scenarios we might not like.
- There is a growing tendency in IoT to try to solve problems with data. When the answers aren't good enough, the answer is more data. There's finally enough of a dissenting voice of caution to break through the noise. But it won't be logic and reasoning that causes the decision makers to sit up and listen - it will be the collapse of trust in big tech.
- While we're busy entertaining fanciful transhumanism futures of general artificial intelligences, we have created a reality today that has rid itself of the moral imagination of humans - to our detriment.
The third hot theme is what appears to be the closing chapters in a dramatic shakeout of LPWAN technologies over the last couple of years. LPWANs fill the final piece in the wireless puzzle that will provide the connectivity for IoT, and there have been a flurry of entrants. Many provide specific features that will serve specific applications. But those planning investment for years ahead have been eagerly awaiting the landscape to settle.
While traditional communications technologies will continue to serve the mainstream applications, the growth in LPWANs will be significant.
Two years ago it was a 20-horse race - last year it was down to four: Sigfox, NB-IoT, Cat-M1 and LoRaWAN. In 2018, Sigfox and NB-IoT are stumbling.
- Many commentators have made winner predictions, with very sound reasoning. All will be wiser with hindsight. You'd be mad to write off the strong contenders - each have so much to offer. But in the game of marketplace adoption, fairness does not apply. 2018 will be a definitive year in the LPWAN landscape.
And the final hot theme is the evolution of the Business Model for the IoT. Not so long ago, the model for a manufacturer was simple - build for x, sell for y and pocket y-x, maybe add a service and support sideline. In the Internet of Things, this model is flailing. The consumer mindset has shifted, via the likes of Spotify, to preference renting things rather than owning them. And quite coincidentally, manufacturers of connected products are more and more obliged to be involved in the lifetime of the product.
Over the last couple of years we've seen the strain of this changing relationship.
- Customers of NinjaBlocks and Nest Revolv found themselves with a paperweight when the parent companies folded. Smart Lock owners discovered their locks stop working if Lockstate buggered up a firmware update. Farmers were outraged to discover they only have a license to operate the John Deere tractor they bought, not repair it.
- This year we will see the sweet spot sharpen. Maybe businesses will find a subscription service that's profitable, and keeps their customers delighted. Maybe ISPs will provide Granddaddy Services, allowing customers to shop for third-party IoT services from one dashboard for one monthly fee. Maybe manufacturers will offer succession clauses, with an open-source guarantee that ensures their products can live on in the hands on their customers if the company shuts up shop. 2018 will reveal the IoT business models of the future.
Whichever way you cut it, 2018 is set to be a defining year in the Internet of Things. I'd love to get your perspective on it. If you're in the greater Newcastle area, drop in at the next Newcastle IoT Pioneers meeting. Otherwise, drop me line in the comments about what's hot in your neck of the woods.