A recent bug in Nest thermostats after a glitch in a software update left customers cold and angry and got V3 thinking: as more gadgets gain internet connectivity what risks might we face with smart devices in the future?
To kick-start minor paranoia for early adopters of the latest must-have device, we identified five potential problems coming to a smart home or city near you.
Rogue smart utility controls
Nest may be getting flack for its malfunctioning thermostat causing customers to wake up with no heating on a cold winter’s day, but there are other smart devices on the market that offer a convenient way to control things such as heating, lighting and electricity consumption, all ripe for malfunction.
Imagine if, rather than shutting down the central heating, a dodgy smart thermostat fired up the boiler at full blast, causing a home’s heating to slowly cook its occupants or leave befuddled occupiers with an astronomical bill.
On the other hand, a hacker could sneak in over the internet and tweak a thermostat to be always just a couple of degrees higher or lower than the desired temperature, over time driving the owners mad.
Or perhaps shoddy smart lighting systems could take umbrage at being told when to turn the lights on or off and decide to bombard homeowners with a light show not seen outside a Pink Floyd concert.
Smart home fans may end up yearning for the satisfying click of a simple on/off switch.
Corrupted connected home devices
It is not just home heating and lighting systems that are becoming empowered with network connectivity, even the humble kettle is now smarter than your average bear.
But with smarter capabilities comes a smorgasbord of software errors and incorrect automated decisions. This could see kettles refusing to boil when activated by an app or doing the opposite and boiling itself over and over.
Temperamental smart toasters might decide that your conservative approach to warming bread is unacceptable and blacken it to a crisp. While the Internet of Things cornerstone that is the smart fridge could see crisscrossed algorithms decide that vegetarians need more meat and automatically order a butcher’s bounty of beef topside.
Worse still, using image recognition and social network monitoring, a smart fridge might decide that you've overdone the after-work drinks and lunch deals and lock itself, allowing you access to its nutritious innards only after your networked smart scales and fitness tracker tell it you’re suitably slim.
Smart home shutdown
Malfunctioning smart gadgets are one thing, but they are often networked together and controlled from a single smart home hub. This is great in terms of convenience but a significant problem if the system starts to fail.
A single buggy software update might result in the control system locking people out of their own home, or perhaps letting all the wrong people in.
Windows and curtains may automatically open when the system thinks it’s a bright summer's day when in fact it's midnight in deep winter.
Or it might decide to fire out white noise through the smart home’s connected speaker system and display disturbing images on smart TVs, reminiscent of something out of a Japanese horror film.
Again, technology fans may wish to stick with a simple set of keys and a remote control and old-fashioned elbow grease before they decide to automate their entire home.
Stalling smart cars
Connected cars with myriad digital systems and internet access are arguably the everyday devices that are becoming the smartest at the fastest pace.
Smart cars offer several benefits to the everyday driver with features such as assisted parking, and remote engine starting, locking and locating.
But more connectivity potentially opens them up to hackers, who may find a way to seize control of a car’s systems through a mobile connection and wreak havoc on the road.
Bugs or dodgy software updates could cause automated driving systems to go rogue and take the car’s occupants on a merry tour around parts of town they might wish to avoid.
More realistically, cars could end up suffering the same software crashes that strike even the best computers, leaving angry motorists on the side of the road waiting for ‘Windows Auto’ to carry out 32 updates before restarting. Something a swift kick in the engine block or a jump start cannot solve.
Smart city crashes
The bigger picture of smart devices and the IoT paints a vision of the smart city, a series of connected networks and devices designed to ease congestion, cut pollution, help people navigate and control lighting and security services.
This sounds like a sci-fi ideal on paper, but the ramifications could be dire if such a system malfunctioned.
We could see traffic routing systems making the wrong decision and causing a city to become gridlocked, or sending drivers unfamiliar with the city on a never ending tour of left turns at every junction.
Glitches in the timing controls of smart lighting systems might end up causing them to fire up at midday and shut down at night.
Automated security alerts could end up trolling the emergency services by alerting them to a critical situation demanding their full capabilities, when the incident turns out to be a car stuck up a tree.
However, these situations are hypothetical, and providers of smart devices and systems are getting smarter about how their products operate and the standards and safeguards they need to prevent people being left out in the cold by malfunctioning smart homes.
To curtail some of that pessimism, Glasgow is an example of a successful smart city programme that shows no signs of going haywire.
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