About 70 years ago, the world was introduced to the digital computers revolution which made the computation of millions of operations as fast and easy as 1+2. This simplified so many time-consuming activities and brought about new applications that amazed the world. Then, about 40 years ago the advent of networks and inter-networks (or the Internet) revolutionized the way we work and live by connecting the hundreds of millions of computing devices that have invaded our homes and offices.
Today, we are at the beginning of a new revolution, that of the Internet of Things (IoT), the extent of which might only be limited by our imagination. Internet of Things refers to the rapidly growing network of objects connected through the Internet. The objects can be sensors such as a thermostat or a speed meter, or actuators that open a valve or that turn on/off a light or a motor. These devices are embedded in our everyday home and workplace equipment (refrigerators, machines, cars, road infrastructure, etc.) or even the human body. These devices connected to powerful computers in the “cloud” might change our world in a way that few of us can imagine today. It is estimated that there are more than 4 billion IoT devices today and that by 2020, tens of billions of devices will be connected to the Internet.
Already, today, a considerable number of IoT applications are imagined and even realized. Homes are being connected to their owners, wherever they are, in a way that no water leakage and no fire remains undetected. Vehicles and the road infrastructures are being connected so that cars are refusing to hit each other even if when the driver forgets to break, intelligent road lights adapt themselves to the traffic so that your stay at a traffic light is minimized. IoTs are also improving the health of many heart patients by monitoring their hearts’ conditions continuously in such a way that the patient’s doctor is aware of a pending heart attack even before he/she feels the pain. These are just a few applications of IoT. Many agree that no aspect of human life will escape to the new IoT revolution.
But IoT is not all rosy. There are also some risks that we are just learning about. IoT devices have proved to be major security concerns since recently some security breaches that exploited vulnerabilities of IoT devices have affected millions of computers throughout the world, creating major disturbances. There are also new dangers to our privacy for which we are not well prepared. The information gathered by these devices (that we even find in our living rooms!) can be used against us violating our privacy. Imagine, while you watch your TV, you TV is watching you and might be sending tons of information to people you don’t even know.
Moreover, IoT technology has not yet matured. IoT devices speak various languages and come with deferent behaviors making their integration a big challenge.
IoT might bring new opportunities to Africa in general and the developing world to solve its many problems but also to develop new applications that might contribute to the world at large. Unlike the previous technological revolutions where we in the developing world woke up too late to be leaders in the technology, today, thanks to the Internet, we can learn about the evolution of IoT at the same time as others in the developed world and aspire to be leaders and not just followers in the field. We can not only “enjoy” finished technologies as we used to do in the past but shape the new technology by participating in its development and its standardization in organizations such as the Internet Engineering Task Force.
It is with this vision that Internet Society, Addis Ababa University, and International Center for Theoretical Physics organized a pilot 5-day workshop in Addis Ababa from September 23 to 29, in order to create the understanding and interest on IoT in Ethiopia. If successful, similar workshops will be organized in other parts of Africa.
For more information about the workshop visit: http://wireless.ictp.it/Ethiopia/