When I first came across the term ‘The Internet of Things’ (IoT) it took me a minute to grasp what this concept actually means. The PewResearch Center describes it as “a catch all phrase for the array of appliances, vehicles, wearable material and sensor-laden parts of the environment that connect to each other and feed data back and forth” to the internet. Essentially, in describes the connecting of objects to the internet in order to collect and relay data.
Many of us are already using devices which fit into the idea of IoT. For example, Iphones, which can monitor our movements, locations and workouts through their range of sensors. In this case, we are the ‘thing’ that the internet is collecting data about.
Postscapes.com provides further examples of IoT technology which is already being incorporated into our daily lives. These range from systems to help keep your plants alive to monitors which will help keep your baby alive.
Yet, this is only the beginning. Patrick Tucker estimates that the IoT is expected to proliferate from a current estimate of 13 million internet-connected devices to 50 million internet-connected devices by 2020.
Experts in the field are both excited and wary of this expected development. After reading through some of the literature I find myself sitting on the fence. Let’s briefly look at both the positives and negatives of a IoT revolution.
- Mckinsey & Company point out that it will create greater efficiency and productivity for businesses. Increased quality of real time information will create more reliable data, enabling businesses to make more informed decisions and better plan better for the future.
- Creates convenience for consumers; enhanced health care systems, community services, safety and the enabling of better time efficiency.
- Environmental benefits from the reduction of waste from businesses and consumers alike.
- Security concerns for businesses due to increased vulnerability for terrorism and hacking.
- Erosion of privacy for consumers, including the major intrusion of an increase in individually focused advertising.
- Creation of a technocracy- A world ruled by technology companies.
- Over-reliance on technological decision making. Where machines make decisions based on algorithms rather than on human concerns.
- Wearable gadgets which enable “life-logging” (scientifically managing ourselves on a day to day basis) causing more social isolation and self-obsession (see conversation.com article here)
- Potential to create too much complexity for humans to deal with. When systems break down, they may become too complex to fix.
- Increase in society’s digital divide.
Many of the concerns related to IoT can be classified as general concerns towards technological progression in general. As humans we have proven that we can quickly adapt to these advancements and develop ways to mitigate the negative effects. As JP Rangaswami highlights, “our notions of privacy and sharing will continue to evolve as a result, with new trade-offs needing to be understood and dealt with.”
The development of the IoT will change how we live. Is this change for the better or for the worse? Dr. John Barret suggests that for the IoT to be beneficial, it must be collaboratively developed by both technologists and social experts, such as sociologists and psychologists, in order to limit potential negative effects.
What do you think? Do the positive implications of IoT outweigh the potential negative effects on society?