The following text is copyright 1998 by Network World, permission is hearby given for reproduction, as long as attribution is given and this notice is included.
Embedding the Internet
By Scott Bradner
Network World, 10/19/98
One of the most contentious issues during the development of IP Next
Generation, now known as IPv6, had to do with what length of IP
address would be required. Initial discussion focused largely on
establishing an understanding of just how many devices would be on
the Internet of the future. The most far-out prediction was that at some
point every light switch would have an IP address and would be
remotely controllable over the 'Net.
A few years ago, the idea of the Internet invading the home and office
infrastructures seemed far in the future, though worth considering.
But this scenario is suddenly looking as though it could arrive a lot
sooner than expected.
New initiatives aimed at embedding the Internet into everything from
light switches and lawn sprinklers to Coke machines and auto engine
analyzers have started to pop up. For example, in just the past few
weeks, Oracle affiliate Network Computer has formed an alliance
with Wind River Systems, while separately, a 12-member consortium
called Embed the Internet has emerged.
The common idea behind these efforts is that ubiquitous connectivity
can make processes more efficient and convenient. For example,
home appliances such as refrigerators could be connected to the 'Net
to enable manufacturers to check on the condition of the machines
during their warrantee periods. A diagnostics check could tell service
personnel what parts were beginning to fail so the parts could be
replaced before an appliance stops working. Internet-enabled vending
machines could let a distributor know when the machines were almost
out of Coke so that delivery people could be dispatched only when
needed. A controller for a lawn sprinkler could check with the
National Weather Service to see if rain was forecast for the local area
before deciding to water a lawn. This last example is one cited on the
Web page for emWare (www.emware.com), a developer of
embedded Internet technology.
But these days it seems like every attractive advance in technology
comes complete with potentially sinister implications. The same
technology that lets service people know the motor in your washing
machine is about to burn out could let a government energy efficiency
bureau know that you are running the machine during the day rather
than during the ecologically correct middle of the night. You could
turn on an addressable air conditioner before you head home from the
office, while the machine reports to Big Brother that you have set it
too low. Someone could hack into the nanny-cam you have set up to
check on your kid's baby sitter and watch you instead. The police
could wiretap your house while trying to find the father of your
The problem is, when you get down to it, control can work both
ways. This is not a plea to stop progress, but rather a warning not to
overlook the dark side.
Disclaimer: Too often Harvard's direction tends to be orthogonal to
technological progress, but the above is my own paranoia.