What Happens When Your Lights, Appliances Are Connected To The Internet : All Tech Considered What's the point of Internet-connected light bulbs and how do they work? This week's All Tech Considered segment explores benefits, concerns and possible implications of the Internet of Things.
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What Happens When Your Lights, Appliances Are Connected To The Internet

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What Happens When Your Lights, Appliances Are Connected To The Internet

What Happens When Your Lights, Appliances Are Connected To The Internet

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Now to the growing marketplace of Internet-connected home appliances. If you stroll the aisle at Home Depot or some other big box store these days, it's hard to miss the so-called Internet of things - thermostats, refrigerators, even light bulbs. Sean Gallagher, the IT editor at Ars Technica, a technology news website, has been writing about it. Welcome to the program.

SEAN GALLAGHER: Thank you, Robert. How are you?

SIEGEL: Fine. Sean, I understand a thermostat that's somehow connected to the Internet. I understand home security cameras. But individual light bulbs that have Wi-Fi capacity? Is that really something that's here now?

GALLAGHER: It's here mostly for use locally. I mean, the idea is within your home network, you can adjust the lighting and use an application on your smartphone, for example, to adjust the color or the brightness of these lights.

SIEGEL: Not with a dimmer, not with a simple switch.

GALLAGHER: No, not with a dimmer. That would be too simple. And in this case, it may actually be something like a color wheel on your phone where you're actually able to push across an interface and change both the color and the brightness of the light bulb.

SIEGEL: So my phone is becoming a remote control device for all kinds of things in my house.

GALLAGHER: Exactly. So the mobile phone is the gateway to the network for most of these devices. And in terms of to the Internet itself, there are a number of devices out there now that use your smartphone as sort of a way to talk to the Internet to get more information. And it's also become a controller. For one thing, by having Wi-Fi on the light bulb, the benefit is that you can have these light bulbs communicate with each other. They can actually act as your Wi-Fi network to some degree, but they can also communicate with each other and adjust the lighting in your house based on where you are or do other things that help improve the overall electrical consumption of your home.

SIEGEL: Light bulbs are sometimes invoked as the epitome of the simple task - you know, to change - how many whatever to change a light bulb.

GALLAGHER: (Laughter) Right, right.

SIEGEL: I mean, to change the color on your light bulb, do you really need the Internet to do that, or is this a solution in search of a problem?

GALLAGHER: Well, this is a solution - this is a niche solution for a specific kind of customer. How popular will it be? I can't say. I think that - you know, I personally am still using plain old LED light bulbs or neon light bulbs, fluorescent light bulbs that are just fluorescent light bulbs.

SIEGEL: You've been writing about this at Ars Technica, the news site. Are your readers excited about this sort of thing?

GALLAGHER: Not really, no (laughter).

SIEGEL: No (laughter).

GALLAGHER: I mean, our readers generally are opposed to the idea of having intelligence and Internet connected to anything they don't put in themselves. We have a fairly technical audience. But there's a lot of concern about privacy, obviously, and security. I mean, one of the big issues with these devices is that many of them use general purpose computing technology that can be reused for other purposes, sometimes nefarious purposes.

So there's the chance, for example, that someone could find out a way to exploit the operating system you're using in one of those light bulbs and turn it into a spam email generator. This has already happened in hospitals, by the way, with medical equipment running older versions of embedded operating systems. I mean, we're talking about things like IV poles and things like that that are running embedded Windows XP, for example. Some of these systems have malware running on them that have been used to send spam email to people.

SIEGEL: What a peculiar thing. (Laughter) I can't - I'm trying to get my head around that idea.

GALLAGHER: That is what the Internet of things is all about. It's really the combination of a new capability to make products more intelligent and interact with you in ways that they never interacted with you before. At the same time, if it lacks the security and the privacy measures that you need - that really need to be taken with this technology, what will happen is it will become also this sort of dark world where the computers do all these sorts of things. Your light bulbs are doing things you didn't expect them to do.

SIEGEL: Sean Gallagher, IT editor at Ars Technica, thanks for talking with us about the Internet of things and light bulbs.

GALLAGHER: Thanks for having me.

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