Don’t get me wrong. I love my Amazon Echo. Always at my beck and call, Alexa literally lights up when I ask her the time and weather. She obediently records my to-do lists, sets an alarm, recites my calendar, plays my music, cues up audio books, and answers simple reference requests. Thanks, Alexa! And she’s still learning. But are we?
The real muscle, and possibly missed opportunity, of the Internet of Things (IoT), the mash-up of mobile, social media, big data, sensors, and location-based technology, is less about device and more about people. People using their heads and hands to collaborate and create — not just consume.
In the “Age of Context”, Scoble and Israel point to the healthcare maker movement, where people on the frontline of healthcare (providers, patients, and caregivers) invent everyday technologies to prevent and treat disease and alleviate suffering. Open access to mobile, social media, data, sensors, gps, and digital fabrication tools allow individuals to design and produce tangible IoT objects on demand, like the smart socks that teen Kenneth Shinozuka designed to help his grandfather suffering with Alzheimer’s and his caregiver aunt who was charged with keeping him safe.
As a STEM junkie, I join the tech enthusiasts, artisans, scientists, hobbyists, engineers, educators, authors, and entrepreneurs who converge in Maker Faire NYC each fall to check out and share experimentation at the intersection of DIY, IoT, science, art, and engineering. Invariably, I spend hours deeply fascinated by and engaged with all kinds of inventors from kids in the garage to humanitarians to business pros to academics. The common thread: the democratization of technologies that empower individuals to collaborate, create, and challenge traditional models of business, care, education, and manufacturing.
As Scoble and Israel point out, “Systems, when mature, become more focused on the self-preservation than serving a constituent need.” So, established companies that profit from IoT commodities geared toward our daily use and consumption are likely to continue to make consumption more palatable.
Neil Gershenfeld, director of MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms and a leader of the maker movement, focuses on breaking down boundaries between the digital and physical worlds. In “As Objects Go Online, The Promise (and Pitfalls) of the Internet of Things,” he posits that in order for the IoT to realize its potential, it must learn from the history of the Internet. “The open standards and decentralized design of the Internet won out over competing proprietary systems and centralized control by offering fewer obstacles to innovation and growth.” People not proprietary organizations and systems need to define the IoT’s future.
“As the technology becomes more finely integrated into daily life, it will become, paradoxically, less visible,” Scoble and Israel observe. They warn of the “very real loss of personal privacy and the lack of transparency about how it happens.” Headlines echoed this week, with everything from marketers challenging FCC Internet Privacy Rules (our right to refuse personal data and location sharing) to understanding how the CIA may hack smart devices.
The IoT has the potential for powerful and positive disruption, helping to shape and evolve how we live. And, there is a price for convenience. We need to learn and understand the costs, and fathom who/what determines our wants and needs.
Alexa, what are my rights to personal privacy?