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5G and the Internet of Things – a hidden opportunity

May 26, 2016

Boiled Eggs

I’m very reassured to learn that the US Department of Defense still uses a 1970s-vintage IBM computer and eight-inch floppy disks to run its nuclear command and control systems. Why? Because the average hacker probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between a floppy disk and a hole in the ground.

As for the DoD’s IBM Series/1 computer, it’s far better that America’s nuclear defences should depend on the computing equivalent of a Ford Model T than that of a Google driverless car.

On the theme of technological golden oldies, I’m simultaneously worried and excited by the arrival of 5G mobile technology, upon which driverless cars depend for real-time positional information.

It seems that the new superfast networks will enable the Internet of Things to develop beyond the TedTalk visions of 25-year-old Steve Jobs lookalikes to systems that actually do something useful. Like remotely activating strategically-placed tasers or unleashing a robotic guard dog when your IPhone tells you your house is being burgled. Or instructing your e-cooker to prepare your no-yoke omelette (the raw materials having been pre-ordered and delivered on the instruction of your fridge) before you even rise from your bed in the morning.

This will be the perfect solution for the young Manchester United footballer who was recently reported as requesting a couple of boiled eggs from the club chef because he didn’t know how to make them at home.

Sooner or later it won’t just be Premier League superstars who can afford the Internet of Things, but all of us. The other day, we got a foretaste of things to come when we asked our daughter, who was staying the night, to move her car to a more suitable place. In order to forestall the impending strop (she had more important things to do, she claimed) we offered to move it for her. Unfortunately, cars don’t have keys these days, and we would have needed a seminar on how to start the damn thing. So we had to wait until she got round to doing it, grumbling all the way.

All of which suggests that we’re heading for a multigenerational technology crunch. The young ones don’t know how to use old technology, and the oldies struggle with the new. Twas ever thus, I guess.

But there is a silver lining, which could end up as a lifeline for technology addicts who don’t know how to do things for themselves, as well as for old farts who couldn’t be bothered with all these baffling computer-driven household innovations.

The day will inevitably come when all the devices we’ve come to rely on will suddenly stop working. Whether it’s for a few hours, days or weeks, whether it’s the result of a cyber-attack, a power black-out or some catastrophic event beyond our control, such as a massive solar storm, it will happen. We thought it might happen on January 1st 2000, but it didn’t. But sooner or later it will. If it’s later, it will be worse, because the technology addicts will have become the old farts. And then we’ll be in serious trouble.

But for the time being, there’s hope that we will come through the crisis unscathed. Because there are still people around who know how to boil an egg, drive a manual gearshift car, shop at Tesco’s, count to ten, write a letter, use a landline and read a paper book, civilisation – as we pampered westerners know it – will survive, at least for a while.

And should that moment come when the Steve Jobs lookalikes come crawling back to their parents to beg for their help, it will be an opportunity for the old farts to demand their due. They can ask for an apology for the condescending manner with which the young regard the old, with which the tech-privileged deal with the luddites, with which the smart phone users speak to those who think phones are for talking to people.

I say this with one qualification: that the tech addicts don’t come to rely on their parents for any length of time. Otherwise they’ll end up driving us crazy. Horror of horrors, they might even want to move back in with us.

So God bless the IBM System/1 and the floppy disks. As the DoD spokesperson said, they work. All the time – at least thus far. Which is more than can be said for Windows 10, my internet connection, fly-by wire aircraft, bank websites, and quite possibly in the near future, 5G.

From → Business, Social, UK, USA

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