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The Internet of Risky Things by Sean Smith

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Chapter 3. The Future Has Been Here Before

Conversations about how the IoT will “change everything” span many application domains. Three sexy ones in particular are:

Smart medicine

Putting IT inside medical devices

Smart grid

Putting IT everywhere in the power grid

Smart cars

Putting IT everywhere inside cars—even replacing the driver

Discussions of the impact of the IoT—of making everything smart—usually go in two directions. In one (reminiscent of Pollyanna or Candide’s Pangloss) the vision is impossibly rosy: the IoT will make everything wonderful. Another direction, reminiscent of the Cassandra from mythology touts a dystopia (too often what listeners hear when security people speak). Nonetheless, both visions have a common thread: this future is new.

Although the IoT is new, interconnecting IT with physical reality (albeit on a less massive scale) is not. However, this is not the first time that information technology has taken a quantum jump in its integration with non-IT aspects of life—even for domains the IoT is penetrating. This is also not the first time that Cassandras and Pollyannas have spoken.

This chapter revisits some older incidents, not widely known outside the software engineering community, where interconnection of complex IT with physical reality had interesting results. The discussion follows the sexy application domains just listed:

  • For smart medicine, what happened back in the 1980s with the simpler Therac-25, a computer-controlled radiation ...

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