House of Commons meeting on the Internet of Things and the Evolution of Smart Technologies

Pete Rai, Cisco, Mark Prisk MP and Rachel Cooper OBE, meet to explore the potential of connectivity posed by the continued growth of the Internet of Things (IoT)

The Internet of Things and the Evolution of Smart Technologies

The Internet is ubiquitous, and the number of connected devices is predicted to grow exponentially. The numbers change daily. Cisco currently estimates that the numbers will be 50 bn by 2020. What does this mean for individuals, business, the economy and society? The Industry and Parliament Trust (IPT), in partnership with Lancaster University hosted a Breakfast Meeting to explore the potential of connectivity posed by the continued growth of the Internet of Things (IoT), to consider the cyber security risks around collecting mass quantities of data and to discuss the role of both design and engineering and government regulation in securing data sharing networks in the UK.

Held in the House of Commons this event was chaired by Mark Prisk MP, a member of the Communities and Local Government Select Committee. Guest speakers Rachel Cooper, Professor of Design Management and Policy at Lancaster University and Pete Rai, Principal Engineer, Chief Technology and Architecture Office, Cisco, provided insights from the design and behavioural and technological dimensions of the IoT, alongside the enormous opportunity for business and society. The breakfast was attended by members of both the House of Commons and House of Lords alongside representatives from various sectors of industry including energy providers, insurance and legal professionals.

The UK is leading in terms of the number of start-ups in digital technology, IoT and related technology. Indeed we have more start-ups in machine learning than anywhere else in Europe. The attendees noted that this is an important growth area for the UK and we need to consider how we help these companies scale up, what sort of investment packages could ensure they scale up in the UK.

The issue of vulnerabilities within the system of IoT and the security issues was of enormous concern. It was noted that many of the recent hacking events were not complex security issues. Both companies and individuals need to increase their awareness and understanding of their vulnerabilities and simple security solutions. However it was noted that regulation and legislation could possibly be too slow to deal with a very flexible and agile environment and that members of parliament, leading industrialists and professional bodies need a much better understanding of the technology and the IoT system in order to react appropriately to issues of privacy, trust and security, without compromising the innovation, economic and efficiency benefits offered by this technology.

Knowledge, understanding and education was thought to be extremely important especially for the next generation of users, who accept so much more of the systems of security such as biometrics, and indeed will have the imagination to develop and exploit the IoT.  It was noted that UK cities are one domain looking to exploit the technology, but with varying degrees of ability to adopt and implement systems within their localities. Education and the development of a new generation of engineers and designers who can work alongside local government and service providers was also considered as important for the adoption and implementation of IoT.

Finally the EU General Data Protection framework which comes fully into force in April 2018, was discussed in terms of how companies can comply with the need to enable individuals the right to be aware of what data is held and their right to access, rectify and erase it. The notion of labelling was discussed and it was clearly considered difficult to apply ‘labels on the box’ and indeed an analogy with the complications of food labelling was raised.

It is clear that we need much more debate, discussion of the implications of this explosion of the internet of things, we need to use our imagination, our designers and engineers to illustrate the potential opportunities for UK industry and society, as well as how we can ensure our privacy and security are protected.