Introduction: In this first of four blogs, Ray Gallon and Neus Lorenzo of the Transformation Society previews issues to be covered in an upcoming July 10 webinar, “Internet of Things: Luxury for the Rich or Sustainable Equity for All?” You may register for this event here:
Please note the call to action at the end of this blog to participate in a survey that will help drive results shared in this dynamic July webinar.
How do you see the future of devices?
- How will you feel when the milk you bought in the super market tells your fridge it is going bad and it’s time to order more?
- Can you imagine a road sign, on a highway, telling a tourist’s telephone what it says, in the tourist’s own language?
- Do you know that in 2015 new European cars will call an ambulance in a crash before the driver can phone, or even if he can’t?
- How will you react if your window calls the police and your insurance company because it’s been broken, without letting you know in advance?
Hyper-connected devices are expanding the ability to automatically transfer information machine-to-machine (M2M) without human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction. The Internet of Things (IoT) extends to every single object, space or aspect of life, from food packages to industrial robots, and from healthcare facilities to intelligent clothing. Is this a luxury for the rich or an opportunity to provide a standard set of resources for everyone?
In Ivy Wigmore’s words:
A thing, in the Internet of Things, can be a person with a heart monitor implant, a farm animal with a biochip transponder, an automobile that has built-in sensors to alert the driver when tire pressure is low – or any other natural or man-made object that can be assigned an IP address and provided with the ability to transfer data over a network.”[i] What’s obvious is that until recently, most of the time, the use of technology by human beings has been voluntary and conscious. Today, we are entering a scenario where we are less and less aware of how ubiquitous technology has become, and how much we take it for granted.
When Kevin Ashton used the term Internet of Things for the first time in 1999[ii], he put the accent on giving each object a unique identity using RFID technology, to save time and reduce waste by taking away from humans the responsibility of entering data and gathering information. According to Ashton, objects would talk to each other faster and safer, and would contact data centers via wireless communications to optimize processes. But by integrating sensor based data into networks and the Internet, we are not only connecting thousands of objects that will be able to exchange information on their own. We are, in fact, creating a whole layer of virtual knowledge based of what these objects can identify, reproduce or interpret from the real world, through millions of open channels, sensors, and devices that are getting smaller, smarter, and cheaper.
Will this information be available to anyone capable of accessing it, or only to the ones who can pay for it? What if nobody can access it at all, except the network itself… or the final corporate owner of the network? What if we install microsensors and devices somewhere, and nobody remembers that it was done, so that the next generations end up being monitored without ever knowing?
Excluding or Bridging?
The growing development of the Internet of Things is mainly ruled by the usual market forces that respond to users and consumers. It can provide customized products or services that will be consumed by an elite, or it can provide personal solutions for people with special needs, and contribute to improving individual autonomy in a variety of situations. Either way, the system accumulates data about the interactions that take place, their frequency and their sequencing-This data can be extracted to learn about private preferences and individual behavior, or be statistically correlated to detect and anticipate situation requiring institutional and public action.
We are still dealing with concerns about privacy, unknown costs, uncertain benefits, pending regulations, and security issues. Health controversies over perceived dangers of certain wireless transmissions might limit the use of RFID technology.
Whatever technology we use, ubiquitous embedded intelligent systems will integrate all data networks and connect us to objects, animals and plants. Is it going to be the result of exotic demands for personal comfort, or the institutional requirement for increasing security, efficiency and controlled standardization?
Superfluous or Useful?
My carpet changes color according to the temperature of the under-floor heating system. Lights in the house switch on at different intensities depending on who enters the room. The dishwasher will start as soon as I (and my telephone) leave for the office in the morning. Superfluous?
Smart homes might be the most obvious case of the Internet of Things, but they are not the spaces where it will have maximum impact. A transponder chip with a hormonal sensor, implanted in a cow, can signal the moment when it is about to give birth to a calf. Fruit trees can signal the best moment to start harvesting, based on the sugar levels of the fruit. An allergic person can be automatically dosed with antihistamine, based on the pollen count, by a combined sensor-supply implant. Useful?
Automated self-medication might seem like a personal convenience, but what if a government, a corporation, or an insurance company imposed it to control treatment costs? What if a patient takes the implant for granted and one day it is hacked, and gives him an overdose?
An electrical generator safely and automatically shuts down when a sensor has determined that a main bearing is about to break. The door-handle of a hospital intensive care ward refuses to open the door because it has detected a fevered hand from an unknowing visitor. The baby bottle blocks the flow of formula because it’s too hot and it might burn the baby’s mouth. Your bathing suit changes color to indicate a high concentration of metallic pollutants in the lake where you are swimming. Convenient?
A brief history of the Internet of Things[iii] shows us how much superfluous elements can become part of our lives, and how things that seemed unnecessary in the past have become institutionalized, and have ended up being commonly used, or even obligatory.
Automakers started embedding smart systems in cars as optional extras, and many of them are now mandatory. The European Union has now required them to install the eCall, a device that automatically makes an emergency call that will bring rapid assistance in case of a car accident in Europe, even if everyone in the car is unconscious.[iv]
Are we ready to live in a world where objects take decisions while we are unconscious?
Share Your Opinions
- [i] “Internet of Things, IoT”, Ivy Wigmore, at WhatIs.com. Viewed 14 June 2014. Ref: http://whatis.techtarget.com/definition/Internet-of-Things.
- [ii] “Internet of Things”, Kevin Ashton’s Blog. Viewed 14 June 2014. http://kevinjashton.com/2009/06/22/the-internet-of-things/
- [iii] “Brief Hoistory of the Internet of Things”, in ‘Postcapes: Tracking the Internet of Things’. Viewed 14 June 2014. http://postscapes.com/internet-of-things-history
- [iv] “The eCall”, in Digital Agenda for Europe, A Europe 2020 Initiative. Viewed 14 June 2014. http://ec.europa.eu/digital-agenda/en/ecall-time-saved-lives-saved
About the guest bloggers:
Ray Gallon is owner of Culturecom, a consultancy specializing in technical information design, content strategy, and usability. He has over 20 years’ experience in the technical content industry, having worked with major companies such as IBM, Alcatel, and General Electric Health Care. Previously, Ray was an award-winning radio producer and journalist, and has worked with with broadcasters such as CBC (Canada), NPR (United States), France Culture, Radio Netherlands International, Deutsche Welle, WDR (Cologne, Germany). In the late 80s, Ray was program manager of WNYC-FM, New York Public Radio.
Neus Lorenzo (PhD) heads the Foreign Language Service in the Departament d’Ensenyament, the local Ministry of Education in Catalonia (Spain), and has worked at the Inspectorate of Education in the Generalitat de Catalunya (Catalan government). She has been a trainer and advisor (Council of Europe, Anna Lindh Foundation) and is currently coordinating the Lifelong Learning Project of the European Union in Catalonia. She has also represented the Spanish autonomies before the education committee of the European Parliament.
Neus is an author and co-author of educational material and textbooks for Oxford University Press, Richmond-Santillana, Oceano, and McGraw-Hill. Her areas of expertise include communication, language learning, digital learning, ICT, organizational networking, educational assessment, international collaboration, and headmaster coaching. She is currently doing research with the Jaume Bofill Foundation, the OECD, several Catalan universities, and The Transformation Society.