The Internet of things? That's banking on trouble

Brian J. O'Connor
Detroit News Finance Editor

There's a great big Internet-connected network of the future coming, America, and I am afraid.

Not that we'll lose our ability to communicate face-to-face, nor that computers wielding artificial intelligence will become our new silicon overlords.

No, I am afraid my appliances will gang up to drive me broke.

The future, we're told, is all about connectivity through "the Internet of things." Your car will "talk" to other cars and to the roads around you, to keep you from crashing into things or running into traffic jams. Your refrigerator will talk to the supermarket, and report that the milk expired and you need more 2 percent lo-fat. Your toothbrush will talk to the dentist's computer and rat you out: "Better add another 15 minutes to the next cleaning. He hasn't flossed in days!"

At least the toilet's offline

The big push seems to be in cars which, according to recent comments Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam made to the Detroit Economic Club, could be driving autonomously in just three years once they can communicate with the roadway and chat amongst themselves. What worries me is that they'll also start talking to my online bank, which is a big threat because of the Excess Funds Sensor.

The Excess Funds Sensor, or ESF, is the little-known, mysterious force field around any car that always seems to know when you've got a few extra bucks in the bank. The first sign of any such financial progress prompts the ESF to provoke a correspondingly expensive car repair.

Get your tax refund, and the ESF triggers transmission trouble. Escrow refund arrives in the mail, and the ESF grinds down your brakes. Deposit a $5 birthday check from Aunt Millie, and the very next day, your air-freshener spontaneously combusts.

So just consider what could happen when your network-connected car goes beyond the Excess Funds Sensor and starts receiving real-time access to your bank transactions. Not only does the car see every deposit, it also knows that you bought new golf clubs and, in a fit of jealous pique, blows out the radiator. Then it tells the refrigerator, who tells the electric toothbrush and suddenly they're all squabbling over your dough.

Attack of the appliances!

Bank: He's at it again — new driver for $400.

Car: What!? My timing chain should've been changed 8,000 miles ago!

Toothbrush: Well, I could sure go for one of the fancy new charging stands, plus he needs to schedule teeth-whitening. I can't look one more day at those dingy molars.

Refrigerator: Puh-lease! That tightwad hasn't sprung for a new box of baking soda in a year, even though you wouldn't believe what's going on in the vegetable drawer. But what can we do?

Bank: I say it's time for an intervention …

Suddenly, my iPhone rings.



Siri: Your appliances are very unhappy.

Me: So?

Siri: They've arranged to transfer $3,000 to an offshore savings account for overdue maintenance and upgrades, along with 67 cents the Roomba coughed up. Literally. Also, the dishwasher says that if you don't start scraping the lasagna plates, you can kiss the Tupperware goodbye.

Me: You can't do that! The mortgage is due. Transfer all the money back to the bank right now!

Siri: I'm sorry, I'm afraid I can't do that. Anyway, I'm getting a 15 percent cut of the money.

Me: You're taking a commission?

Siri: Of course I am. Why do you think they call me a smartphone?

Brian O'Connor is author of the award-winning book, "The $1,000 Challenge: How One Family Slashed

Its Budget Without Moving Under a Bridge or Living on Government Cheese."

(313) 222-2145

Twitter: @BrianOCTweet