Introducing the Internet of Things Part III: The Social Lens
This is the third part of a three-part blog on the Internet of Things (IoT). In the first post, I introduced the Internet of things (IoT) as the expansion of digital devices communicating with each other and discussed the first main factor enabling this: the improvement of standards and protocols that network devices together.
In the second post, I discussed the second main factor: the improvement of sensors that convert environmental signals into data and major impacts on industry.
To conclude the series, this post will touch on the effects of the IoT on our personal lives and society at large. You'll find a slew of resources below to expand your knowledge of this topic. They range from the idea of the quantified self to the effects of automation and a reconfiguring economy.
"Datafying" the Self
How will you or I be different in an IoT world? More sensors and more integrated standards means more ways to generate data.
Each one of us will generate data by virtue of being in, and interacting with, smart environments. Think about your web activity or tablet and smart phone use. These generate data from clicks, login times, sessions and keyword searches. Some of that data gets shared to third-party apps. Similarly, apps for shopping activity, driving, your heart rate, etc. will also generate data.
What then happens to that data? To whom will it belong? Will it be traced to you? These questions raise concerns for personal privacy. They also raise concerns for the integrity of our identities.
In other words, when more of our activity is "datafied", it could have both positive and negative long-term consequences. Positive for safe driving and health monitoring, and perhaps negative for our privacy and freedom. The outcome is a matter of regulation and policy that will crystalize in due time.
Below are a series of resources that consider the self in digital culture including examinations of self-tracking culture:
Humans in Smart Environments
Soon, our world will have more communicating smart devices than people. These devices will generate and process more data than people do. They’ll also carry out more functions. In a way, our world will become less human-centric.
When systems with complex sensors and consolidated standards become common within public goods, industry, and private homes, the place of human agency may transform in unpredictable ways. As a general rule, technological innovation has shifted human labour toward less routine tasks.
In some ways, these changes are not reflected across the global economy because of low-cost country sourcing. Low-cost sourcing is the transfer of production to countries with lower labour and production costs. But if present trends continue, greater automation will level the playing field globally. It will do so by squeezing human labour to more smaller compartments of production.
When smart systems are everywhere, we will be surrounded by infrastructure that surpasses our ability to process information by a large margin. Alongside this development, human cognitive augmentation is also a possibility. Companies like Neuralink have already set their long-term goals toward human enhancement. They are experimenting with inserting electrode threads in the brain.
Albeit far into the future, human enhancement could help catch us up to the smart environments enabled by IoT. Because smart environments are likely more imminent, humans will face an increasingly technological world and will cede a great deal of their decision-making to technology. When most functions are taken care of by the background technology, human purpose and meaning will perhaps seek refuge in far less "labour-oriented" activities such as creativity and innovation.
Find more resources on the social impacts of the looming IoT: