“The Lawnmower Man Effect (LME) represents the consumer’s ability to traverse digital systems across the globe, all captained from their personal area networking space utilizing pervasive WAN technologies.”
—Dr. Dean Anthony Gratton, Cambridge University Press, 2013

A Modern Message

I first coined the term The Lawnmower Man Effect (LME) in my book The Handbook of Personal Area Networking Technologies and Protocols for Cambridge University Press back in 2013. It’s a term that classifies the ability afforded to a new generation of consumers who seek connectivity with anything, at anytime and anywhere. I derived it from the 1992 movie, The Lawnmower Man, starring Pierce Brosnan as the scientist conducting numerous experiments on his simpleton gardener (played by Jeff Fahey) in an attempt to dramatically increase his intelligence. The experiments enable the gardener to eventually become a holistic part of the wider area network, with the ability to traverse computers, technology, telephony systems and a range of other digital applications and services across the globe, giving the movie not only a vision of the future, but an undercurrent of malevolence that translates into a powerful modern message. 

My definition the LME typifies the ability and need for society today to, likewise, traverse similar systems across the globe, whether sitting at a computer, waiting for a train or cheering at a sporting event; all captained from their personal area networks. In fact, LME has never been a more prevalent acronym, as we move towards an era of connected technology immersion that will see every sector of business and every part of our lives affected by the Internet of Things (IoT). 

An Ever-Evolving Connected Culture

Our generation has the opportunity to remain connected, no matter where they are in the world, with the immediacy of content and access, and perhaps social media, all playing a part in the need to be ever-present. In a society that often demands, “We want it now!” it seems that we no longer possess the ability to wait for that all important tweet, post, pin, or YouTube upload.  

Alongside our growing impatience for content, the vibrant shift in communication through social media has given rise to a new revolution of fresh knowledge and curation – all supported by an ever-evolving connected culture led by virtual communities mapped across our virtual space.

Widening Targets for Ransomware

But it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. The malevolence of the movie’s main character and his need for power and control is also translated into the security fears that present themselves as one of IoT’s greatest challenges. The ability for devices to be hacked and controlled remotely is an issue that developers are struggling to safe-proof against. Moreover, security analysts claim that not enough is being invested in building protection into IoT in its early stages of development and, indeed, some have hacked into devices such as community lighting and traffic signals to prove the point. What’s more, the increasing rise of IoT means that the nature of what we consider to be a computer is continually broadening which, in turn, means that other devices could be potential targets for ransomware.

A recent report from the Institute for Critical Infrastructure Technology (ICIT) examined various families of crypto-ransomware and highlighted the importance for computer users to be primed for such attacks with a layered defence. The report entitled “Combatting the Ransomware Blitzkrieg” states:

IoT devices offer a potential growth bed to any ransomware operation because the devices are interconnected by design and many pointedly lack any form of security. A selection of traditional malware will be too large to ever run on a number of IoT devices, but ransomware, predominantly consisting of a few commands and an encryption algorithm, is much lighter.

How much do you predict someone would pay to remove ransomware from a pacemaker? The scenario is not too far-fetched; in fact, it is much more deadly. Many medical devices, such as pacemakers, insulin pumps, and other medication dispersion systems are internet or Bluetooth enabled. Ransomware could utilise that open connection to infect the IoT device.

A Wireless Playground for IoT Technology Drivers

Crikey! It’s a frightening thought and I worry that the uber-excitement of bringing more and more revenue-intensive IoT products to market may well take precedence over any issues surrounding their future safety. Having said that, and not wanting to be all doom and gloom, there are some positive steps forward in empowerment for consumers through the IoT. In particular, energy management through smart thermostats like Hive, Google Nest and Honeywell, which offer systems that allow us to adjust our temperature and hot water settings from anywhere, via our smartphones. The systems are also ‘smart’ enough to learn from our habits and can suggest the most economical way of running our homes, based upon our movements. To some extent, for the developers of the technology, it’s a wireless playground where technologies like Bluetooth and ZigBee are on the connected merry-go-round and have now garnered sufficient momentum to be taken seriously. 

And let’s not forget those wearables we all have on our person now, which allude again to my LME connectivity paradigm. Although some still choose to reject them in terms of being part of the IoT, there’s no denying that the health and fitness data from these gadgets is increasingly being fed back into the wider network and can be used to monitor such things as your sleep patterns, which can then be fed back to your smartphone who can alert you to the best time to wake up each morning.

Beyond the Movie

Ultimately we are all becoming increasingly connected to the world we live in and to ourselves as functioning beings with living data of our own. It’s no longer a crazy science fiction movie! The LME is here, now and everywhere around us and is driving a connected route forward with a force that will see it pervade every part of our cities, streets, transport and homes – along with all that lies within them.

Brave new world or a frightening reality? You decide!

Until Next Time …

Admittedly, the IoT is still very much, as far as I’m concerned, a work in progress and, at this time, I feel there are many unanswered questions remaining. Ultimately, we should start by asking, “Do we really need everything to be connected?”

So, this is where a cautious Dr. G signs off.