For this week’s podcast we had the pleasure of interviewing Cate Lawrence, a technology journalist for ReadWrite and DZone, as well as a freelance writer for various startups. Cate is a big fan of IoT, wearables, robots, AI, biohacking and other trending technologies which she likes to chat about on her podcast. This interview lasts 15 minutes, feel free to listen to it below or go ahead and read the edit. Enjoy!
Do you live in a connected home with 9 or more connected devices?
Yes, I have some wearables, connected pet products to review, Amazon Alexa, and also RFID and NFC implants… so I guess I’m somewhat connected.
Could you expand on the connected pet IoT devices?
It’s a battery-powered toy for cats, shaped like an egg with a feather, so it looks a bit like a sex toy unfortunately. Basically how it works is that you can make it change noises (bird, frog, etc) through an app, and when you are not home it rolls around your house and makes noises to entertain your pet. I tried it a few times because I was going to review it, and after a couple uses the cat hated it because it was too noisy and would wake her up when she was sleeping. So the UX experience was pretty bad.
You mentioned RFID implant, is this for payments or what do you use it for?
You can’t use them for payments at the moment; I got them at a wearables tech conference because I’ve been covering biohacking for a few years. I got some health data stored on them, but besides that I’m not using them much in terms of connectivity. In an ideal world you’d be able to do pretty much anything you can do with a swipe card, but it can be a little bit harder to implement depending on where you live.
As a tech. journalist that’s always researching the market, what is an IoT startup that personally gets you excited or afraid of the future?
My favorite is one called ShotSpotter, acoustic sensors that enables the police to detect gunshots through acoustic surveillance. Basically 15-20 sensors are deployed per square mile to triangulate gunshot activity and detect time and location of shootings because a lot of the time people don’t call the police. It just shows that there are a lot of social and community-based problems that technology will have a place in solving; this one example has been very successful, and the funny thing is they are also using it in Africa to prevent rhino poaching and blast fishing.
Taking it back to the consumer side, we have not seen much innovation…how far do you think we are from this sort of groundbreaking technologies that can take us closer to a Jetsons future?
I know exactly what you mean, at the moment a lot of it is kind of in prototype stage or POC-stuff. But if you think of kitchen products, like ovens and refrigerators, a lot of the big retailers are doing things, like an oven I saw earlier this year that could perfectly cook a fish in a piece of ice by using sensors. There are all kinds of -sometimes bizarre, sometimes really interesting, use cases. I think it’s coming but right now there’s a small number of really innovative products offered at a higher cost, so in terms of scale that’s not going to happen until the prices drop. And the prices are dropping, the cost of sensors technology has dropped exponentially over the last few years, so we will gradually see more and more products.
Cybersecurity is also related to the lack of adoption, do you feel that the lack of consumer IoT endpoint security is a real fear, or are these fears greatly exaggerated?
I don’t think they are exaggerated at all. Researchers have triggered most of the cases we hear about in the media, but we have cybercriminals deliberately committing attacks and the vulnerability of products already in the market is pretty appalling. There are no standards or records, I still hear people telling me: the industry should regulate itself, but I don’t think it should because it’s showing no ability to do that, let’s be honest. Introducing laws is a problem itself; they could be too vague trying to cover every eventuality or so niche that they miss a lot. It’s going to take a really multi-faceted approach, a lot of it is going to be consumers being cyberaware and potentially not buying things if they believe they are insecure.
What are some good cyberhygiene practices that you would recommend to our listeners who live in a connected home?
The first one is to know what devices you got connected to the Internet, it’s amazing, I hear scenarios all the time where people have connected home products but they have no idea how many and therefore have no means or plans to update them when they need. A lot of this stuff is “power is knowledge”, knowing about risk management, knowing how to identify an email you shouldn’t open, making sure you have multiple passwords and two-factor authentication, making sure your device is not publicly accessible through services like Shodan, and just really questioning the products you get. If you are getting the cheapest products from parts of Asia and they are connected, you might want to check them out a bit, take some care and be vigilant with this stuff. Unfortunately we are in an era where you can’t install once and leave it, things always need updating, so if you see a vulnerability or if you see an alert…update your stuff, stay informed, you don’t need to be hysterically fearful, it’s about making judicious decisions on what you should accept.