You may find my opinion surprising as someone working in the technology environment and surrounded by computers and all sort of i-Devices. Behold! Here’s Max’s take on the direction of the world, IoT, etc, etc.
To me, with IoT we are heading towards a paradigm, the paradigm of human idiocy and redundancy. The advent of technology has served humanity well, but it may also be our bane. I’m not talking here about those freaky Boston Dynamics robots but more about the way our lives are impacted by technology to the point that we become dependent on it and falsely helpless without it.
Excuse my offensive, old-continent diatribe but for example the Amazon Dash button. Per se, the idea is fantastic. You program your button for whatever you need, hit the button and Amazon will deliver it. OK. What about shipping costs? What about the impact on environment? It may work well in a city environment but what about rural areas, do you really get as many trucks as needed on the road to deliver one box of wash machine powder? On the contrary, the benefits for people with reduced mobility are obvious. I struggle to find a good reason why I would install Dash buttons all over the place. I’m busy, I wouldn’t care to shop by hitting a single button. On the other hand, I work a lot from home and shopping is a way for me to get out and see the amazing world of shopping malls (and tell myself, after all, that being home alone isn’t a bad thing). Stuff such as detergent, cleaning products etc. is the exclusive realm of my wife, she goes to great lengths to find the best deal and I think that way beyond the cost aspect, it’s the brain stimuli of having made a « good deal ». I never considered telling her about these Dash buttons yet.
But again IoT goes far beyond the simple Dash button concept. I see on one hand devices speaking to humans and on the other devices speaking to devices. For example we have the case of manufacturing plants where devices talk to each other in a programmatic way. This reminds me so much of the so-called « work instructions ». All is well by following these until you reach an unexpected situation and nobody knows what to do, and all work stops until an « expert » hops in to give direction and get the machinery back rolling. A counter-measure to this is the introduction of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in an attempt to respond to unexpected conditions. AI is originally programmed by humans, but is designed to incorporate self-learning and self-improvement mechanisms. Releasing AIs and allowing them to make improvement to themselves may lead to unexpected patterns of behaviors, analysis and decisions that, while presumably taken for our own good may also signal the end of humanity as we know it. You know, Terminator, Stephen Hawking and stuff like this. You can counter this and say that this could also take the Asimov road of the Three Laws of Robotics… but here again it depends to which level these will be hardcoded in chips, whether they will be hackable, whether the microcode will be ring fenced or not etc. And these so-called Laws can also be ambiguous. Law Zero, after all, could cause an unexpected condition where AIs would attempt to protect humanity from its own demise and may enslave it « for its own good ».
Leaving AI aside the implementation of full-scale automation, while being a technical feat, asks the question of human relevancy. What about work, unemployment and the impact on revenue for millions (billions) of people? If nobody works, how will we earn a living and purchase the goods produced by corporations who will outsource their manufacturing to robots ? Will that mean the end of the capitalist economy as we know it? Will we all get universal basic revenue? Will we all spend our time at the library to increase our knowledge (dream on)? Or will we just keep playing Candy Crush? Of course I wouldn’t complain to get out of bed, have my smart watch detect that I woke up therefore have an automation workflow trigger in that turns on the toilets light, starts warming the bathroom floor as well as turns on the coffee machine, have a sensor detect that I get into the shower and by weight (or device/bluetooth) whatever detection turn on the shower… at my preferred temperature, please! (not the 20,000°C that my wife is used to).
For IoT manufacturers, that’s where the money is. I don’t mind. But in my own truly humble opinion, I think that technologies companies should invest in what makes sense for the world. Seeing how technology can enable remote communities in third world countries by producing clean electricity, by helping them get access to water, by allowing them to thrive and educate, that is to me a nobler quest than the quest for Wi-Fi controlled lights/thermostats. And let’s not forget that while we may be apt to use IoT, how would our elders interact with this?
Even beyond the task, or allow me to say the duty of helping humans live in dignity, there is yet an even nobler goal. The goal of knowledge, wisdom, exploration of our universe, unbound frontiers. This is the dream of our generation, of your generation, of many generations who have all gazed at the stars in awe and wonder. My dream is not to have my head stuck in my smartphone looking at GIFs or at whether my IoT-driven toaster is ready.
Finally, there’s also the topic of IoT security and reliability. And that’s a large topic to discuss about, we can only attempt to scratch the surface of potential implications. Your IoT-driven car could be controlled remotely (see Chrysler, Nissan Leaf and others), so could your home: your access could be revoked, a hacker could force you living in a brazen inferno or in sub-arctic conditions, the possibilities are infinite to a creative and ill-intentioned hacker. Aren’t we coping enough with our computers and smartphones to open wide the gate of vulnerabilities into our everyday lives?
Bring back technology to what great scientists and visionaries have always wished for: to allow mankind to advance into a better future, a future of knowledge, peace and enlightenment. Not a future of computer/device-driven idiocy, redundancy and illiteracy.