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VMblog's Expert Interviews: Jim Hunter Talks IoT Security, Interoperability, Challenges and Futures

interview greenwave 

The rapid rise in digitization is a major driving factor for the Internet of Things (IoT) market. And that growth is increasing the demand for better network connectivity.  To better understand the IoT market and learn more about what's happening in this space, I reached out to Jim Hunter, chief scientist & technology evangelist at Greenwave Systems, a leading global IoT software and services provider that works with Verizon, TCP, NXP, IBM, E.On, and more. Jim is a highly regarded IoT technologist and has created and patented multiple technologies that played a major role in driving a smart connected future.

VMblog:  To kick things off, let me first ask... how do you define the Internet of Things?

Jim Hunter:  We define the Internet of Things a little differently than our colleagues. We don't see it as a new revolutionary technology or new direction for companies. We see it as the natural evolution of compute.

If you go back to the beginning of personal compute, personal computers were awesome. They brought great power, creativity, connectivity, and productivity to you and that was the value proposition of what the software did.

The next generation of compute became more mobile. While computers became mobile devices, the value propositions - productivity, entertainment, creativity - stayed the same.

As we move forward in IoT, it's very much the same situation - the things that were once trapped in a much bigger form factor are being distributed around our lives in sensors, information gathering devices, actuators, and information-affecting devices. These technologies are scattered throughout our landscape, but it's our landscape - the things that are on us, around us, and even the things that will soon be in us - that is the value prop. The value is not about the device, it's about you and the value it brings to your life. So, for us, the IoT is not an important as the IoYou/ internet of you.

VMblog:  What are the current obstacles interfering with the mass consumer adoption of IoT?

Hunter:  With the next generation of compute, the obstacle is usability. In the early days of IoT, it was about having affordable and reliable technology. Sometimes affordability and reliability ran contradictory to each other. It's less reliable if it's more affordable or you have to pay more to get a more reliable product. The trick to expanding consumer adoption is to find the sweet spot between the two and we are beginning to accomplish that. However, the usability is still a challenge. We're starting to see products like the Echo making technology more usable with voice and the voice UI but there is still so much more we can do and so much further we can go to make things more usable. We have to think like a user and not a device or technology provider.

VMblog:  Why is there an interoperability issue and how can this be solved for end users?

Hunter:  Interoperability is an issue because there's a multitude of companies that are building products that they want to differentiate. If you're all blended into the same language you start to lose your identity. It's a similar scenario with the human race - we have many languages. You can't go to a country and say "you have to use our language." That's not going to happen because there is too much value in the uniqueness of it.

So if we can't come together as humans, the humans making the machines aren't going to come together as well. Standards bodies are great and interoperability can occur at certain levels but, as soon as interoperability starts to diminish the uniqueness in commoditized products, the people that make and want to be differentiate products are going to start to push back. We've seen it over and over again in standards bodies, when you get to the data model layer of standardization.

VMblog:  Why are there so many different standards rather than one universal language?  What are some solutions companies can utilize here?

Hunter:  It goes back to the interoperability challenge. The language issue begins to diminish uniqueness, which is an all-important differentiation companies utilize to elevate themselves above others in the marketplace.

There are certain areas where people can standardize things - IP is a fantastic example, as is the Web, HTTP, TCP, and communication and protocols that run over IP. Those are standardized because they've allowed for a great level of differentiation on top of them. They're much lower-level languages and much more concentrated standards that allow you to create graphic user interfaces or interactions on your own terms, addressing a system to talk to things. But what you need to have on top of that is a way for individual products to differentiate themselves from other products without losing their identity.

If you commoditize at a higher level where you are sending command and control signals, actuating, and reading information for example, you'll run into the problem that there is nothing above it to actually create better experiences to differentiate yourself... you're too far up the stack, in some cases.

Where we can standardize is the work that Thread is doing, or moving to a common language that may be IP packet or IP-based communication, or leveraging chipsets like Z-Wave that have a huge number of interoperable products and by adding them you become interoperable with that family of products. We can standardize lower in the stack and we have to standardize in the stack rather than to bring on brand new fundamentals.

VMblog:  Why does an IoT security problem exist?  What has contributed to the problem and why aren't manufacturers more concerned about it (or at least acting more concerned)?

Hunter:  This is a great question that we're addressing within the Internet of Things Consortium (IoTC). Very much like the industry, all of the stakeholders need to be on a common ground and education is the first step. With the Privacy and Security Committee of the IoTC, we're helping to put together guidelines for minimum viable products around privacy and security. This is important because companies don't bake security into the products they make, but sprinkle them on top as an afterthought. Security is too often thought of as an afterthought.

If you're a device manufacturer, platform provider, or a solutions provider of any kind dealing with technology and don't have security or a security mindset in your product, not only will it introduce a problem of being hacked but also a liability that makes you weaker than the other products out there.

VMblog:  Can you provide insight on the privacy debate?  What rights do consumers have at the moment in regards to IoT purchases and data collected to power these devices?

Hunter:  We're still in the very early days of IoT. As with the very first generation of compute or mobile, there's a lot of room for advancement and a lot of growth that is ahead of us. The privacy is something that the industry is not taking seriously. There's a great misrepresentation just by using the Internet of Things - with IoT, the notion is that it continues business as usual with the internet.

As the web was developing, we entered into an understood contract with companies that we're okay with cookies tracking our information, and sending our information off to servers because we were getting value from that relationship. We could disconnect and walk away from the relationship and the information was no longer provided because we were no longer engaged and we were willing to make that exchange.

However, as we evolve and distribute and watch connectivity change, there's devices that are around us all the time, on us most of our lives, or in us for the rest of our lives. To expect the same level of sharing and information to be taken away from us for (a) manufacturers to make a better product, (b) service providers to make better consumer experiences, or (c) because of the notion that as long as an identity is kept secret it's okay, is wrong. We're creating digital footprints of ourselves where you can start to recognize who is creating the data based on the trends and what they've done in the past. So, the concept that an "all-around-you, 24/7 internet that you can't get away from" is going to keep operating the way it was before is a bad idea.

Privacy today has had some shots - last year, the CISA act was actually a shot across the bow for privacy with what it did to privacy and information being taken - but we have to push against this. One way to do so is to look at other precedents that are out there. One interesting precedent to note is The Wiretap Act in the United States - if you're in most states in the country, before someone wants to listen in between two audio points in a network they must have consent from one direction or, in some states, both directions. If you replace "audio" with "data" in that scenario, anyone that wants to access the data needs that permission. There is an all-or-nothing mentality that "if I don't want you to track one thing, I won't get an unrelated service" that needs to change. We have to rethink how we look at privacy.

VMblog:  What are your predictions for IoT over the next year?

Hunter:  There will be good and bad. I predict more "grow ups" - where companies that are putting themselves into unique position in the landscape and companies turning profits will be rolled up into bigger companies.

Breakthrough technologies will start to come out. I'm a big believer in the advancement of Augmented Realty (AR). We already have the ability to hold up a screen and see into another world - just look at Pokémon Go as a great example of being to overlay information into your real world and create universes of information. These technologies will only expand to enable things like being able to scan technologies with a screen to understand, change, or repair them without having to go through conventional methods.

We'll see some privacy/security failures that they industry will learn from. There will be technology hackings, some in closed environments and some more legitimate. Hacking will increase as a business and at least one website will emerge with the sole purpose of finding weaknesses in other internet-based products.

At least two more large corporations will deploy IoT-based solutions to their consumers successfully.

I think there will be large scale roll outs, that will continue to struggle with the use cases around it. New business models will have to evolve in the next 1-2 years where it's not a monthly fee but other interesting ways to roll out connected new technologies.

Last year, I predicted that drones were getting smaller and more personal. I continue to predict that there will be much more personal drone moments - selfies from a stick will give way to selfies from the air. Drones will get smaller, faster, smarter, and have better optics for superior images. Drones are going to be a part of our lives for quite some time.

VMblog:  What is your advice to companies/technologists getting started in IoT?

Hunter:  Learn from others. IoT device manufacturers that are getting started and building products need to partner as they often times can't do everything. There is a cloud component, reliability factor, quality of service element, application model aspect, and many other things that need to be considered.

A lot more things are getting outsourced. For example, Amazon and Google have done a great job of ensuring you don't actually have to have servers in your life anymore, as you can just outsource that. More and more things are being outsourced.

Another perk of partnering is that you can learn a lot from others. I recommend immersing yourself in the community and learning from what others have done.

Privacy is paramount. If you're a stakeholder in IoT that applies to a consumer we highly recommend that you explore the IoTC or another organization that helps you define tools and teaches you things key information about the space, technology, the legislation - anything that helps you market your product to consumers on a large basis.

Make sure you build stuff that matters. The "if you build it they will come" mentality isn't necessarily true. Build something that actually brings true value. For people to bring technology into their lives, there is a cost vs. value relationship. If you require a high cost, significant investment time, too much effort, etc. won't be adopted as it won't be worth it.

If you make an app, understand that your app will most likely not be the center of your consumer's world. Don't try to make an app that consumers have to go to every single time they want to do something. Recognize that your app is likely a minimum bar and what you really want to do is interact your app with other apps and other technologies. You don't have to own the UI to succeed in IoT.

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Once again, a special thank you to Jim Hunter, chief scientist and technology evangelist at Greenwave Systems for taking time out to speak with VMblog about IoT.

Published Tuesday, November 08, 2016 7:04 AM by David Marshall
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