Due to his background, the Internet of Things has been an area of interest of Dr Johnny Ryan. As a former executive director of the Innovation Academy in University College Dublin and chief innovation officer at The Irish Times, Ryan has been at the forefront of helping businesses tackle and adapt to developing trends online, and recognises that IoT could be the next step.
After leaving the Innovation Academy earlier this year, Ryan co-founded Toolkit.ie. This start-up, another vehicle for him to follow this passion in design thinking, focuses on helping organisations that are at risk of disruption to rethink their business.
“It’s very hard for someone who is focusing on the day-to-day at a business to step out of those concerns and think about what might be next”, said Ryan.
“Every organisation is political. That’s not a bad thing, but often it is internal politics that decide what gets done and how quickly. What we help with is how to shift the focus from internal concerns and align focus so it’s entirely on the needs of the end user”.
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With the Internet of Things presenting so many opportunities for businesses, Ryan feels it is an area that people in his line of work cannot ignore, noting his proactive attempts to predict where this sector is going.
“I spent a year and a half writing myself a history book on the internet, going back all the way beyond the 1950s, in order to understand technology from the bottom up and pick my way into the future,” he said.
“What interests me about the Internet of Things is that it’s the next chapter. There is so much to be gained, and so much to be lost. We have very little idea of what the Internet of Things means, in a cultural, social and business sense.”
Looking at the present-day-applications of IoT, Ryan mentioned Disney’s MagicBands technology being used in resorts to optimise every aspect of a visitor’s experience.
“They can track you in to the park. So when you’re queuing up, if it’s taking too long they might come and give you free ice cream or bring you to another queue. It’s a small example of what happens when you have technology that can track when you signed up to a system agreeing that the provider can track my presence. “There is no reason that, within ten years, your jam jar and your teaspoon won’t be reporting to something else in you house what you’re consuming. Maybe the teaspoon detects you’ve been eating a lot of fatty foods; and it’s remotely possible that this information might be aggregated by someone you’re not happy having access to that information.”
Developments in the Internet of Things are catering for rapid advancements in tracking technology and data aggregation. Such progress is great for organisations looking to monitor consumer activity, but it does lead to questions about data protection.
Speaking about the Article 29 Working Party, a group of data protection commissioners from each European Union state, Ryan feels we have the right structures in place to re-empt such issues that may arise from this data collected being used inappropriately or garnered in a misleading fashion.
“The Article 29 Working Party often have a fairly far-sighted view of what’s coming,” he said. “On the privacy agenda in Europe are the moment and on the EU commission’s research agenda is the Internet of Things.
“I suspect the regulatory wheels are moving relatively conservatively, but n the other hand, as this stuff begins to enter more into users’ lives, I would be surprised if they don’t have some fairly hefty push-back. It is so clear that this is something that needs to be addressed that there is no way it won’t be.”
“Taking about the new-found prevalence of factories operating day and night in darkness since there is no need for continuous human involvement, Ryan highlights threat the place of workers in the production line is seriously under the spotlight.
“Production and logistics is the kind of thing that can be accelerated by IoT,” he said. “If you can track everything about where a pallet is going, what’s in it, and all of the components of what went into that pallet, you are much closer to being able to automate the building and selling of something to a human. This is where the concern isn’t privacy, it’s where does the human fit into production. These are big important questions.”
With items such as the Disney MagicBand and dark factories already working examples of IoT in modern industries, Ryan believes that this could be the start of a new tech “renaissance”.
“We had Web 2.0, and I think we’re getting to Objects 2.0. They used to be dumb, but now objects are getting smart. So, what happens when you have these object in an eco-system where they can all communicate? It’s possible that we are at the first stage of some renaissance that we cannot yet envisage.”
“I’m a little bit wary about something such as labour displacement and privacy, bu at the same time there are some amazing upsides. And the idea of Objects 2.0, mutually aware objects, is quite a remarkable idea.”
Dr Johnny Ryan is a speaker at The Internet of Things summit at Carton House in Maynnooth, Co Kildare on June 17, organised by iQuest. www.iquest.ie