Worlds Apart

Internet of Things Council founder: Internet of the future, benefits and challenges

The Internet of Things is the internet of the future where not just computers and smartphones connect to the World Wide Web, but all the objects we use daily, from coffee makers, vacuum cleaners to even doorbells. Connected devices that can ‘talk’ and pass data to each other. Proponents say the devices would learn from the processes to drive efficiency and make our lives easier. But what are the challenges? Host Oksana Boyko asks Rob van Kranenburg, the founder of the Internet of Things Council, a think tank dedicated to technological governance. 

The Internet of Things Council founder Rob van Kranenburg
“Connectivity has become a commodity,” Rob van Kranenburg, the Internet of Things Council founder, says. Cheap and affordable internet connection has made it possible “for the connectivity to leap out of the computer and become attached to your lamp.” / Worlds Apart

Oksana Boyko: Hello and welcome to Worlds Apart. By the end of this year, the number of things connected to the Internet will exceed the number of people on this planet by several times. This new reality of smart fridges and accommodating coffee makers promises to take human comforts to a whole new level but not without a cost. Is it even possible to tell apart this technological utopia from dystopia at this point?  Well, to discuss that, I’m now joined by Rob van Kranenburg, the founder of the Internet of Things Council, a think tank dedicated to technological governance. Rob, It’s good to talk to you, thank you for your time.  First of all, for those of our viewers who’ve never heard this term, what is the Internet of Things? 

Rob van Kranenburg: Well, I think they may have never heard of it but they sure encountered it so it's the idea that every things will become smart and in order to understand it we have to go back a little bit to what made this all possible which is the Internet. So, the Internet is basically hooking up computers, so it's a protocol to have a language for computers to talk to each other and up until sort of the 90s they were sort of computers talking to each other and then around 1993 we got the World Wide Web, HTML, Tim Berners-Lee, who put this on top so we have this language, that says sparse on a packet to all these computers which is going like a virus across the world and then we have WW HTML on top of this.  And this is still happening in devices in computers and smartphones and tablets and what we see now is that because of basically two main trends one being the cloud this massive amount of computer storage possibilities, so before that we already had this kind of Internet of Things as automation and factories and the engineers they know that they have machines.

OB: It was mostly for computers and the people, but now we are talking about pretty banal devices like the fridges, the microwaves, coffee makers, etc.

RK: Yeah. And this is because of these two trends. So one the cloud happening so it's made it possible to store all that data. In the 90s we had the smart fridge, the smart card but this were all demos.

Internet of Things, connected devices
More devices are being made with Wi-Fi capability. By the end of 2019, there will be more than 26 billion connected devices. © Jeferrb / Pixabay

OB: We're essentially talking about the environment that allowed all those items that we use in our daily life to be connected, not only to ourselves but also to each other.

RK: Yes and so that the cloud and the fact that things got incredibly cheap so hardware has become a commodity, connectivity has become a commodity, which means that is very cheap and affordable and this indeed has made it now possible for the connectivity to sort of leap out of the computer and become attached to your lamp. So the lamp becomes a smart lamp, so all of a sudden very quickly all these objects that have a little bit of microprocessor power in them are now reading out other objects and the other objects that I don't have  this capability to do that, they are becoming tagged so you all know the barcode, we know radio frequency identification, we know QR codes, we know net field communication that's in your phone. You put your phone to a QR code, the QR code has a URL embedded.

Internet of Things concerns over security and privacy issues
The Internet of Things (IoT) will bring a lot of opportunities, but it also raises many concerns surrounding security and privacy issues. © Michael Weber / Global Look Press

OB: Rob, back in 2011, you co-authored a bit of a manifesto in which you called on citizens to reclaim the politics of technology and engage more actively in regulating this new digital environment it ears on. Do you think now we are any closer to the idea of every citizen having an input in how this environment is run?

 RK: I think we should have and it should be like that.

OB: Is it the case now?

RK: It's not the case.

OB: Are we further away from then we were 9 years ago?

RK: Depends on where you are on the planet sort of also. I think the first thing to do you have to understand and we all know like we're all simple people, we have our issues, we have our problems and you like things to work and they're all working and so very convenient and it's all happening so it's very difficult to zoom out and have this bigger picture of what's actually happening and do I like what is happening. Especially and again because it's so fast.

OB: It's central question here, because in any kind of politics, you need participants who have a basic level of competence in order to participate, if we take and consumers as this political base and you compare them to a political base. Do you think an average, they have enough knowledge, enough skills, you even have an informed opinion let alone fight for it?

RK: No, at the moment no.

OB: Will they ever have it? Because you know that this industry standard now is to produce a product that is essentially fool proof, you know that requires the minimum cognitive capacity from users.

RK: Yes, yes, this is exactly what's happening and so in the same year that I set up the Internet of Things Council we set up the Internet of Things day so these IOT and so people can subscribe their own offence and this last year we had about 70 this year already have 20. A lot of Africa's Africa is getting online and a lot of things are happening sort of there and this is exactly intended to create some kind of public debate and what I'm trying to do is basically doing two things: so creating is awareness among people but also creating a mains awareness among policymakers.

OB: But are you keeping up with the pace of progress because technology changes not by the day changes by the hour?

RK: Well, it changes sort of basically what changes is a kind of a set of it's a bit of noise as gadgets and services that are changing very fast, but the drivers behind them are at the moment still pretty stable. So, the first thing the first level that sort of happened in this Internet we said it started to create data and if the data it created was actually determined by the protocol so it's not a coincidence that  the data layers are now in Silicon Valley,  because it all came out of sort of that region. So, what we see is that Gafe are like Google Facebook Amazon Apple. They are now sitting on most data in the world and which is let's say one surveillance capitalist model that we have now and the other model that we have which is basically a national bubble which China has built, because the last Chinese government had nine engineers scientists out of 12 politicians and have understood very early that if they don't control this new level of data they may control the glass.

OB: And you want the ordinary citizens who use their coffee machines in the fridges to confront both of these huge bubbles both the corporate one in the state one?

RK: Well I could understand that for a set of people also like me who took, it took me 20 years, to sort of understand sort of this, there is no way you can get this immediately but that's why it's more important this moment in time to get to the policymakers to get to the politicians and to get to the people who are making decisions.

OB: Many of the companies you mentioned Facebook, Google, etc. And they all claim to espouse the same values, the same concerns that you have. Social justice, sufficient government equality etc. Why can't they be fully trusted with chaperoning this new world?

RK: Well, I think there are two reasons, but one reason is that I don't trust the founders. I mean Mark Zuckerberg call this first for uses **** books, so we all know this. Bill Gates closed down open-source development of WordPad with his letter to the open-source community. The whole point about these big companies is that they should not be allowed in the hands of individuals. I mean they aremortal. They will die and then this will go to the kids and these are nephews of Sergey Brin and this is impossible,  again it's the Chinese engineers because the politicians are engineers. They understood very quickly, so they realized something has to be done but the rest of the world was taken caught off guard. It's like a new war and all of a sudden somebody comes with a new definition of war and before you actually know it. And this is what has happened.

OB: Speaking about governments, you mentioned the Chinese government but I think the American government is also very active in this regard as is the Russian government by the way. I know that you've argued before that. If the Internet Of Things is fully developed there would be no need for governments, as we know it right now. Do you think people in power will find that prospect and enticing in let you realize that vision?

RK: Well, they may not find it enticing but I think they are smart enough to be realistic. So what we are facing now both in Europe and Russia and any other system, that is not able to protect its own citizens by hosting its own data on platforms. It's the moment now where the AI is hitting the big data, creating new entities building, new formats, creating new services. so the people who are able to do this is either Amazon doing it. And let's say in China where you can run by do now this leap is of the same magnitude of the Internet itself if you miss out on that level of AI if you miss out on this next level, you basically have no other choice but to live as let's say 700-800 million people in Russia and Europe.

OB: You know I have returned to quote the Russian president on this program too often, but he actually said that the people or the corporations, the entities that will master the AI will rule the world, so essentially he agree with him.

RK: So, we could have a good discussion then because he would also realize and this is why it's not strange to talk like this, that he will also realize that he has to build its own system and his own system doesn't meet sovereignty by having doing something against the web or closing things down. It's a positive way of building a new system and this is what we try to do in Europe where and also in the next-generation internet program, where we have ideas to build a 500 million zone, to build our own bubble, to keep our own data secure.

OB: It's a very interesting topic because right now in Russia we have this huge controversy surrounding the so called sovereign Internet and the idea if you are to believe the authorities is not to close anything down, but to create your own web capacity. In case, our friends across the ocean decide to pull a plug on us. So, that you have that internet operable the time are saying that it's a reasonable idea?

RK: That's a very reasonable idea and a there's a technical layer that's capable of doing it, which is 5g you have vertical application, so you can go to the wearables, to the home, to the car to the city, but this is something that we should discuss in the braid with all of us. So, building such a system should have a lot of people around the table, so the hackers should be at the table and the government should be at the table, in the meetings, that I run in Holland. Last meeting we did in Amsterdam. We have the chief of police, police innovation, and the hackers the real ones at the table because they have the same goal to build a good public infrastructure.

OB: Well, I have to say that we are not there yet in Russia even though we have pretty knowledgeable hands.

RK: We can bring them in we get said the whole point is, because we know that we don't want a world in which individuals can run companies of billions and they are not accountable. We also know that the old-style politicians that want to control everything are also no longer productive. This is not happening because we have a generation of Millennials under 35, that are way more knowledgeable than any other guy including me over 35. So, we should bring them into the discussion and this is the kind of conversation that we're having also with politicians. If they want to run things into the ground and create breakdown between now and 5 or 10 or 15 years, everybody continues like this and we will surely have that so that's what we know for sure.

OB: Let us take a very short break now, but we will be back in just a few moments. Stay tuned. Welcome back to Worlds Apart with the Ron van Kranenburg, the founder of the Internet of Things Council. Rob, just before the break we were talking about Russia and how governments in this country and others may be thinking, and now dated ways. And we also have a major digital power in China which, when it comes to its political system, is often criticized as being outdated and authoritarian and yet it is also at the forefront of establishing the kind of future, that you often advocate for. What's good and what's bad about how China approaches it?

RK: Well, I think it's a good question and it's also very difficult to answer because I think they have the only possible answer in this at this moment with the internet now in the world and the world wide web in this Internet of Things it's really like a new ontology so the tools that were working in the analog world and no longer working and people are feeling that so  companies are realizing if they want to do things on their own it's not gonna work. They need to build B in large eco systems and they need to share and do a lot of b2b and determine niches for people to actually make their products. This Internet of Things is bringing a lot of transparency in the world is showing the overhead and it's showing how crazy a lot of the things were tuned to indicators of let's say mature success ego greed and all of these indicators and now these going away so if you look at the Millennials you won't impress a 20-year-old by driving up in a big Beemer sort of who cares sort of, if you don't have a good answer.

OB: It depends where that millennial is. Taking you back to China this concept is sometimes and the Chinese success are developing it is sometimes presented in pretty dark ways as a means to your authoritarian control. Do you think that's justified?

RK: I don't think that's justified, because the Chinese sort of government  again being engineers, the way people are thinking about it and China, we have to remember it had an emperor until 1912, the first emperor 2278 BC started a population register, so in Holland we have the population register like seventeen eighteen hundred, so first of all, you have to understand that the whole notion of bureaucracy and population management and sort of like is very common sort of it it's just more exposed all of a sudden because of this internet of things and because of the wisdom of the earth as when Jarboe called it. Now this is not only control reasons for having this system, so we have reputation management of people which is called the social credit

OB: As well as the comforts of life I mean is also a way of making people's lives better.  

RK: Well, as China is also bringing the last 100 million people out of poverty, so again they're doing extremely good work on recycling, on circular economy, on renewable energy. So is there really a sane person in the world who would like to see China break now into ten thousand mafia kingdoms. I don't think so.

OB: Western observers are nervous about this because of the… I think because of the mix of technology and what they perceive as authoritarian is, but I want to ask you the question about Western democracies because  it's Western democracies that are chasing people like Edward Snowden and Julian Assange. it's Western security agencies that are pretty intimately cooperating with big tech giants. Are you sure that people who run democracies would want their own populations to reclaim the politics of Technology as you've been calling for?

RK: No, no. To me basically, all these systems are a part of the toolset that we had sort of before t before the internet I would not go at the moment going to vote once every four years for a political party. That's being paid by the model so they're all lobbyists of the same model. To be a democratic system. That democracy is something totally different. To me, it doesn't exist anywhere on the planet at this moment. This means there's massive unrest throughout the world and we see that we see it in France we see it everywhere. People feel that they're not represented and this is logical because now we have the tools to be represented. So, if I have these tools on my phone, if I'm better informed then the person I'm supposed to vote for to represent me for four years in a t this is a model that's obsolete we should really think about new models and for that we have no other choice, but to give everyone a second chance a little bit. Also our politicians and the people in power we should at least give them one chance to sort of sit across the table and then was okay we'll do this together.

OB: I wanted to ask you a question about the hostility on the internet because when I read your writings the kind of future you project is very positive but I think our digital reality is  hostile I work for the channel that has to invest a lot a lot of resources into building its cyber defences, because of relenting cyberattacks and I know that's also a reality for many Russian state institutions and I guess institutions not only in Russia. Do you think this kind of very efficient, very neutral, sometimes very friendly world, that you could sustain the current cyber tensions that are happening all around the world?

RK: Well, not on this protocol but then again the internet was not built for security, so we have to take it to a different level and we have to take the new value that is five G level where you can embed security, where you  sort of fade out TCP RP when you basically fade out the internet. So the internet as a protocol s tcp/ip is something is historical. It is not meant to last a thousand years or so it was a great protocol David Bowie called it alien so it may then maybe here, sort of like it make the ship maybe here so this is what they showed us look what have you been doing on this planet killing each other and sort of all this nonsense and it didn't.

OB: It didn't stop people from killing people some would even argue that it may have intensified that urgent this is actually a question I want to ask you because you talked about opening up all the databases security intelligence databases to citizens in order to make the Internet of Things fully functioning and yet somebody like me who has reported from Syria who has encountered pretty dangerous citizens who are also pretty tech savvy. Don't you think that you are under estimating human malice and the ability of the Nerds and the tech guys to protect us from that human malice?

RK: Absolutely. And I fully agree but I think that the grain of thinking in the current systems is under estimating human goodness. We are totally obsessive growing obsessive compulsive with all of this notion of like security and security.

OB: But how do we growing obsessive? Let me give you some figures I think it was last year that the IOT attacks grew by 600 percent and there are lots of stories about cars medical devices even baby monitors being hijacked. I read a story about you know a family in Washington whose child was monitored by a stranger who whispers something over the microphone. I mean that's not a tremendous I mean that will make you refused all the devices.

RK: I'm not playing down these, but we also must be a little bit honest right so I think in 2016 or 17 I don't have the figures totally, let's say for hackings caused about 8 billion in financial trouble. The security industry invested 9 billion in antivirus and they're hanging, it's an industry. it's an industry! So I mean the people are hacking I'm not gonna say…

OB: You are saying that we have to accept the risk because we need a comfort?

RK: Well, I'm saying also we have to move away from the Internet as a protocol that is in principle fully insecure. so again the security is an industry and the security has all they need to expose the fears and all the hacking devices so that people get afraid and they get protection and we have to come up with a new infrastructure and 5g and some other things in the blockchain, all these things sort of these are actually things have come up for a reason. So, I think there are we have some tools but it's very important to start thinking positively about the new tools to build a new system.

OB: While we are thinking about new tools and innovation the human psyche stays basically the same. Do you think it can handle that degree of openness that you are advocating for, because you're essentially suggest that in the future everybody should be able to track your my movements if we want, and I mean, if I think about my old life. I don't want even, you know, my closest friends or family members to track all of that. Do you think people can survive that kind of scrutiny in transparency?

RK: Well, maybe we can't. But maybe the Millennials can in the next generation.

OB: It's very important point because the iGen, you know the iGen generation, that comes after the Millennials, the rates of anxiety and suicide among them is unprecedented and so clearly they are not dealing well with that.

RK: No, because they also not educated nobody's telling them what is happening right. Yesterday with the students I was telling them a story about the Midwich cuckoos from John Winton. So he has a story it's in the 50s in a small village and all of a sudden all the women are pregnant and sort of the guys are getting crazy. They start hitting everybody but sort of at the end they sort of decide let's do it  because then nobody knows what so the girl and the kids are being born and they're beautiful and there's a beautiful boys and beautiful girls and there's one philosopher in the  village and he's looking at the kids and he's realizing something strange is happening because if one boy learned something one knows it too and if one girl learned something the other ones. They have it immediately. He begins to think they're telepathic but his generation is standalone generation cannot deal with this telepathic kids. So at the end of the book, he takes a truck full of explosives and blows them up. So I always tell to the Millennials if I talk to them, unfortunately, we cannot blow you all up and that's when they get the kind of a break a little bit, because they realize they've been born into this bubble, and when they look everything is okay as long as they're on their devices when they close down their devices, they look at this world build on totally different indicators and they cannot think they just want to go because..

OB: But what makes you believe that there are children will be more prepared for this new reality than there are I mean if you believe in evolution this is unlikely to happen?

RK: Well you there you have me it's a good point I'm very sort of positive about the climate change activists that are now we're sort of in all across the world so they're like 15-16-17, so that generation unlike the Millennials who will be confused for the rest of their lives and they have to learn to live with that the younger generation have seemed to   manage the devices quite more intuitively. And also stay analog. Stay sort of stay grounded the point is we've all we were all caught off guard. And now we know a little bit more, so we have to have stories for the old people like me in charge they have to step down they have to go they, they have to hand it to these Millennials and they have to prepare and educate the ones growing up in this full connectivity.

OB: Even if they themselves know nothing.

RK: They know nothing, but at the moment and this is really key and this is happening as we speak and this is also the discussion this is the reason, why for the first time we saw people in Microsoft, in Google and Apple protesting and this is because of the face recognition software that's also running down lots of places and in China cents times actually doing this.

OB: And that those companies were also planning to sell to the Pentagon. Well, Rob, it's a fascinating topic I'm sure we could have talked for these hours but we have to leave it there thank you very much for being with us.

RK: Thank you very much, thank you.

OB: encourage our viewers to keep this conversation going on our social media pages and hope to see you again the same place same time here on Worlds Apart.