I recently came across the concept of the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) in some articles a couple of weeks ago, and it is one of those concepts that keeps popping out of the ground like Punxsutawney Phil on slow-acting acid. What is this mysterious concept? I understand the IoT as electronic devices that are hooked into the Internet, whether it be through WiFi, Bluetooth, or LANs, so that we are constantly connected to the Internet, whether consciously or not, through these devices.
I use the word ‘consciously’ very particularly here, because we have become so used to having smart devices around us, helping us, that we tend to neglect to think about the impact (read: control) that they have on us. A oft-used example of this is the smart fridge, which can tell you when your milk is low or about to expire and can help put a grocery list together based on what you have or need to have in your fridge. This feature has superb applications for people with busy lifestyles, but the implications of this amount of control of a fridge, over our lives, is obvious (I think).
Companies may eventually promote preferred vendors so that you only buy their products, and perhaps if you diligently neglect to use their vendors, make the temperature of your fridge go down so food spoils quicker. Who knows of the subtle diabolical plots that fridge manufacturers may get up to in the future?
One example, that hits closer to home for me, is the prevalence of fitness bands that so many people seem to have received over Christmas recently. Is anybody else not concerned that these bands are taking in so much personal information about us, and we’re not even really sure of the security of our information? These bands not only tell us how fast, how much, how hard we’re working out, but how many calories we’ve burned, how many more steps we need to take to fulfill our daily fitness goals, how we’re doing in comparison to friends, what our average pace is, what our peak pace was, and so forth and so on. I can completely see these bands morphing into more physically intrusive devices that will tell us when our blood sugar is dropping, what kind of salt we should be eating, when we are dehydrated etc…
Do you really need a device to tell you when you are thirsty?
Of course not, but as we slowly become used to the IoT taking our lives one bit at a time, have you noticed that you have stopped memorizing telephone numbers, that you read the news on a screen rather than in the paper, that you watch your favourite shows on your iPad rather than on TV, that you stay connected to friends via instant messages rather than real conversations. I exaggerate of course, most (caveat ‘most’) people are still good about reading physical newspapers, supporting local broadcasting, talking to friends and loved ones in person, but the memorization….I wonder where you stand on that?
Perhaps its the paranoid in me, having grown up on Sci-Fi from the likes of Assimov and Bradbury, that makes me leary of technology taking over our lives so resolutely. There are so many positive effects of the IoT but I think that there are great risks as well, and I think that we need to regulate the influence of all these devices on our lives so that we don’t lose control of our lives, without really realizing it, until it’s too late.
The IoT terminus could well be the vision in Wall-E, not Terminator, but it’s just as scary.