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Communications of the ACM

Inside risks

The Future of the Internet of Things

The Future of the Internet of Things, illustration

Credit: Alicia Kubista / Andrij Borys Associates

As suggested in the previous Communications Inside Risks column ("Risks of Automation," October 20168), the Internet of Things (IoT) has the potential to encompass and instrument an enormous range of connected devices—including home appliances and utilities, wearables, homes and corporate buildings, industrial processes, medical devices, law-enforcement devices, military equipment, and other connected applications that today might be barely imaginable. In the present context, "Things" are simply those computerized and networked devices that become part of the IoT. Some of those Things will be directly accessible over the Internet, whereas others would be supposedly hidden in local networks behind firewalls and address-translating routers.

There are already many risks recognizably associated with the IoT. Some risks are old and well known, but exacerbated by the unprecedented scale of the IoT; estimates for the next few years suggest tens of billions of Things. Other risks may be new, stemming from the nature of how these Things are designed, what they are used for, how they are deployed and managed (or not managed), and how market forces will influence the development. In this column, we outline some of those risks and what might need to happen if the IoT is to deliver the benefits envisioned for it—with a reasonable level of trustworthiness. Our message is intended as a wake-up call for computer professionals, but is also relevant to everyone involved as a user.


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