Thursday, June 16, 2011

Two Sides to Every New Piece of Technology

Often times with each new piece of technology, it seems there are two sides to its implementation that should merit careful consideration. Recently there was an article (press release?) about a company that has created a light bulb with a chip inside of it that would allow each bulb to have it's very own unique IP address. While that's a bit unusual, I can see some good outcomes of this as well as some strange ones. From the article:
"You could monitor, manage and control every light bulb from any Internet-enabled device – turning lights on and off individually, dimming or creating scenes from your smartphone, tablet, PC or TV – to save energy as well as electricity costs."
First, let's look at the benefits of such creativity.

Maybe you could turn your smartphone into a remote control of sorts, setting your lighting, air conditioning, etc. when you are away from home. In the home, I'm sure you would be able to do the same. Additionally, you will probably be able to adjust your lights and appliances as a whole and monitor their power consumption or maybe even keep energy costs down by turning off lights in rooms where no one is present. Some of this technology is essentially already in existence in different forms, but this could bring it to a more user-friendly level.

Now what about the flip side? Well, are they talking about IP addresses that are available to the internet, or just to your home wireless router? It's difficult to deduce from the press release.

If it is made available widely, then what? What if someone decides to launch a denial-of-sevice attack against the group of IP addresses that represents the appliances in your house? Would it trigger the same effect as a power outage or loss of control over your appliances? Sure the article mentions a 128-bit AES encryption mechanism, but it may not take much just to create some type of disruption. I'm sure the sophisticated malware writers out there could potentially have a field day with this one.

Can you imagine inviting a group of guests over only to have all the lights and the appliances in the house start going haywire just as you are pullng a turkey out of the oven? Or, what if someone decided to run up your electric bill by turning up the thermostat full tilt and turning on all your lights/appliances while you are on vacation? Yes, there are plenty worse things that could happen, but it would be a weird thing to get stressed out about and could get potentially dangerous if safeguards are not put in place (i.e to prevent the air conditioner from running in the winter or to prevent the furnace from running nonstop until something overheats).

Whatever the outcome, this could get interesting.

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