Establishing the “World-Sized Web”: Considering the Impact of Pervasive, Global IoT Connectivity

by Matt Klassen on February 17, 2016

robotThe Internet of Things is quickly becoming the moniker of our connected everything existence, the sum total of all the gizmos and gadgets that we’ve dubbed fit for network connectivity. But as this trend continues the reality will soon be that everything will be on the Internet; the devices we own, the things we interact with in the broader world around us, and let’s not forget the autonomous devices that will soon be taking over our jobs.

It is this autonomy that is really driving the creation of connected devices, as IoT gadgets will increasingly perform tasks for us without the need for our direct input or involvement. Whether it be driverless cars, or automatic thermostats, we’re just beginning to see the short-term possibilities of what pervasive network connection can do for us.

But while its relatively easy to grasp IoT on a micro scale, most, it seems, are ignoring the larger macro ramifications of this connected everything existence, for as one pans out the camera on IoT, as it were, we get to connected neighbourhoods, connected cities, connected countries, and ultimately to a fully integrated, network connected world.

In fact, as Resilient Systems CTO Bruce Schneier explained in a recent essay, what we are doing with the exponential proliferation of IoT devices is essentially “building a world-sized robot, and we don’t even realize it,” a robot that Schneier has dubbed the “World-Sized Web.”

As Schneier notes, the World-Sized Web (WSW) is in effect the sum total of pervasive connectivity, the result of us wanting all the gadgets, devices, and whatchamacallit in our digital life to interact with each other independently of us. The components of the WSW won’t be anything revolutionary: its brains will be in the cloud, on servers connected wirelessly, on Wi-Fi and short-range data networks. It will be a global, mobile Internet, and much like the Internet as we understand it now, it’ll be both comprehensive and persistent (everywhere and always on).

Now again, none of these components are new, per se, but they’re now being connected in ways that will turn the end result into something new, into a robot as it were, largely independent of us, acting increasingly autonomously as advances in AI continue to develop.

But in case you’re wondering, Schneier doesn’t envision some Terminator Skynet scenario, where the robot eventually takes over, but simply the creation of some global, largely benign, data collecting monstrosity that will exist, in theory, for the benefit of humankind.

“By and large, the WSW will be a benign robot. It will collect data and do things in our interests; that’s why we’re building it. But it will change our society in ways we can’t predict, some of them good and some of them bad. It will maximize profits for the people who control the components. It will enable totalitarian governments. It will empower criminals and hackers in new and different ways. It will cause power balances to shift and societies to change.”

As Schneier notes, the changes that will result in the establishment of the WSW are hard to predict, for the simple fact that the changes are not merely technological, they’re societal. Sure we might be able to say that pervasive connectivity will allow people to offload most of the mundane tasks of life to some IoT gadget, but what kind of people will we evolve into once we’re able to do that?

“For example, it was easy to predict that better engines would mean that cars could go faster. It was much harder to predict that the result would be a demographic shift into suburbs,” he writes.

All that to say, this so-called WSW, this virtually incomprehensible, globally connected robot, is being created as we speak, largely without anyone really noticing it, and given how radically it stands to change our existence, the last thing we want is to be surprised and unprepared when it finally arrives on the scene. Such a connected everything existence will undoubtedly change our society, our lives, our very existence, and those things are important enough to merit pause for considering such a potentially paradigm-altering advance.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. Follow by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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