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« Theoretically private | Main | Not magic bullets, but bullets nonetheless »

How smart?

By Dave Birch posted Feb 17 2011 at 12:37 PM

I had an interesting conversation with the CTO of a multi-billion company at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. He, like me, felt that something has been going wrong in the world of identity, authentication, credentials and reputation as we try to create electronic versions of physical world legacy constructs instead of starting from a new sets of requirements for the virtual world and working back. He was talking about machines, though, not people.

Robots could soon have an equivalent of the internet and Wikipedia. European scientists have embarked on a project to let robots share and store what they discover about the world. Called RoboEarth it will be a place that robots can upload data to when they master a task, and ask for help in carrying out new ones.

[From BBC News - Robots to get their own internet]

RoboEarth? No! Skynet, please. And Skynet needs to share an identity infrastructure with the interweb tubes, because of the rich interaction between personal identity and machine identity that will be integral to future living. The internet of things infrastructure needs an identity of things infrastructure to work properly. Our good friend Rob Bratby from Olswang wrote, accurately, that

The deployment of smart meters is one of the most significant deployments of what is often described as ‘the internet of things’, but its linkage to subscriber accounts and individual homes, and the increasing prevalence of data ‘mash-ups’ (cross-referencing of multiple databases) will require these issues to be thought about in a more sophisticated and nuanced way.

[From Watching the connectives | A lawyer's insight into telecoms and technology]

I can confirm from our experiences advising organisations in the smart metering value chain that these issues are certainly not being thought about in either sophisticated or nuanced ways.

“The existing business policies and practices of utilities and third-party smart grid providers may not adequately address the privacy risks created by smart meters and smart appliances,

[From Grid Regulator: The Internet & Privacy Concerns Will Shape Grid: Cleantech News and Analysis «]

Not my words, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in the US. Too right. The lack of an identity infrastructure isn't just a matter of Facebook data getting into the wrong hands or having to have a different 2FA dongle for each of your bank accounts. It's a matter of critical infrastructure starting down the wrong path, from which it will be hard to recover after the first Chernobyl of the smart meter age, the first time some kids, or the North Korean government, or a software error at the gas company shuts down all the meters, or publishes all of the meter readings in a Google maps-style mashup so that burglars can find out which houses in a street are empty, or the News of World can get a text alert when a sleb gets home, or whatever.

My CTO friend was, I'm certain, right to suggest that we need to start by working out what we what identity to look like in general and then work out what the subset of that in the physical world needs to look like. If we do start building an EUTIC or a UKTIC to complement NSTIC then I think it should work for smart meters as well as for dumb people.

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