Since I learnt about the Internet of Things, e.g. “a scenario in which objects, animals or people are provided with unique identifiers and the ability to automatically transfer data over a network without requiring human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction“, I always looked at the behaviour of highly networked objects like robots, internet-connected appliances and mobile communications with voice command enabled from the perspective of the human who wants everything else to seem human; we make our phones speak our language, and we create movies where robots (really for no reason other than our obsession with ourselves) are molded into human forms. This logic of turning highly networked, consistently connected, intelligent and versatile technology into a reflection of ourselves undermines the potential of this amazing phenomenon which has leaked further into our lives than most average Joe’s would or could conceptualize. Things like RFID devices (microchips in pets), mobile phones, ‘smart cars’ (internet and bluetooth connected), internet-connected exercise equipment, Microsoft’s ‘Smart Home’ etc, are all part of the Internet of Things, incorporated into our lives or part of our future lifestyles. Almost anything can become part of this wide-ranging phenomenon; “from coffee pots and household lights to vending machines“.
There are distinct advantages and disadvantages to the Internet of Things and its potential to alter our lifestyle, our health, our safety, our relationships, even our sex lives. Ultimately, networking helps humans live; longer, better, happily. It can help us at the start of our lives, when our mums and dads want to watch over us while they’re at work using a networked baby monitor connected to their iPhone. It can help us at the end of our lives, when we want to stay independent but still feel safe and secure, wearing smartwatches which can tell when we fall, or when we wander out of a familiar area. Networking transforms cars into ‘smart cars’ which can both provide humans with access to networks, monitor safety and performance, and guide us to our destination. We can supercharge humans by linking our brains into the Internet of Things and controlling the world around us, enabling the disabled. Point is, these devices and systems are often based in robotics, or intended to enable use through well designed user interfaces, but their effectiveness is stifled by our continuing obsession with making non-flesh objects look like us.
Despite the positive applications of the Internet of Things, there can be disadvantages. Take for instance this headline: ‘Dick Cheney Was Worried Terrorists Might Hack His Heart‘. In a physical, non-networked world, this would mean hardly anything. In a world where our lives are slowly being uploaded device by device, system by system, Dick Cheney may have had a reasonable fear. Black-hat hackers, hackers who hack with no conscience, or moral ground, could possibly hack into the defibrillator system which keeps his heart going, and shut it down or alter the behaviour of the system, because it is a networked device, with a wireless connection useful to doctors who can monitor his heart health. Hackers can also hack into the baby monitor app and system, viewing the babies while they sleep. This is a very sobering idea, bringing us back down to the ground, out of our fluffy cloud of techno-utopia.
I can’t deny the fact that I, and I’m sure many others, would absolutely love to live in smart homes, and really appreciate the different aspects of our lives which have been absorbed into the Internet of Things. But there are some very dark parts of this transformation which may become problematic in our wireless future.