The Future of IoT: Internet of Things and its Discontents

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The Future of IoT: Internet of Things and its Discontents

Technology is making it ever easier to build an IoT network. Integrated automation solutions will potentially link systems and applications and, indeed, almost everything. Whether this represents progress or, on a more practical note, whether people affected by this change will accept it is an open question – The Future of IoT.

by Alan R Earls

One thing is clear: increasing levels of auto mation create a new set of social issues that could po- – tentially stunt the growth of IoT. We discuss these concerns with a futurist and a labor leader.

Future of IoT Imperfect

Aric Dromi, based in Gothenburg, Sweden, describes himself as a “professional troublemaker” and futurist. In addition to a corporate job, he runs his own company where he focuses on changing “the way we experience the world, the way we think about thinking,” and transforming the way we understand change and abandon old paradigms. Dromi says he appreciates technology, including IoT, but is troubled by how it is used and what its unlimited deployment has done to aspects of human life and culture: “A lot that I write about is what are the societal impacts [of technology]. When it comes to human behavior, and also economic growth, we’ve lost control over technology.”

My first take on IoT is that there is a fundamental difference between the Internet of Things and things on the Internet. We have gotten locked into a reality where people are selling and using things on the Internet about which we are completely ignorant. The accumulated value of reciprocal relationships is gone, as is the true value of what is provided.”

What is the reason for putting a 17- inch flat-screen on a fridge and connecting it to the Internet. Is it to make a grocery list? You don’t need that to create a list. The telecom industry says we will have 3G, 4G, or 5G connectivity to bring that fridge on to the Internet. Why? You don’t need that. I think we have become locked in with these surface touch points rather than the real value. We are pricing things based on production rather than usability.

That is the difference between IoT and things on the Internet. Golden Krishna, a designer and author of the best-selling book The Best Interface Is No Interface, asks some great questions that triggered me regarding how far we are extending the focus of touch points rather than the logic behind those touch points.” [Krishna currently works at Google on design strategy.]

When it comes to human behavior and economic growth we’ve lost control over technology.

Aric Dromi,

The Future of Iot: Aric Dromi -

A genuinely intelligent environment doesn’t need me to interact with it all the time. The fridge should predict the things I need. Then there is my connected toothbrush. When I was in the US, I said maybe I should upgrade my toothbrush – and I found this connected toothbrush. It can map your face in real time. It starts Bluetooth and gains access to a camera. Why? Because Oral-B wants to see me brush my teeth. What is the value of that? What is the value to me? That is the part we are missing. We have no idea of the value, not just of me as an individual but the value that my own existence is creating.

I think that is the point we are missing when we are striving to connect everything together. Instead of liberating technology, we are creating jails for ourselves. I don’t believe technology should replace humans and I don’t believe we should compete against technology. We should find a common ground to work together to find the next stage of evolution – a mutual evolution of technology and humans.

Our discussions are not around these things. I’ve come to the point where I think we can summarize it in two sentences:

  • We live in a world where we can search and google but no one knows what to search for.
  • We live in a world where we can operate everything but no one knows how anything works.

They are talking about folding phones as the next thing – but what is the value of a thousand devices in someone’s pocket? If we are talking about driving ahead and improving things, we need to be driving and improving things with a focus. It doesn’t make sense to have ‘smart’ before everything. We are focusing just on technology rather than utility.

Aida Ponce - Lawyer

Aida Ponce: Everybody’s 100 percent agreeing that digital skills will be needed, but no one is able to really decipher which ones, or how to prepare.

Aida Ponce Del Castillo is a lawyer with a European doctorate in law, which highlighted regulatory issues of human genetics, and a master’s degree in bioethics. She works within the European Trade Union Institute’s Foresight Unit where she focuses on strategic foresight and on the legal, ethical, social, and regulatory issues of emerging technologies such as IoT, which she views as an enabler for further automation:

When people say more jobs will be created [by new technologies and IoT], I would like to see hints of where. So far, we don’t have any idea where people will be needed. Everybody’s 100 percent agreeing that digital skills will be needed, but no one is able to really decipher which ones, or how to prepare.

Obviously, automation has increased as a buzzword over the last two or three years but, so far, automation and IoT has only had real impact in a few visible sectors like IT, the automotive industry, and other types of manufacturing.

We should perhaps look at other sectors where IoT or automation is not yet as visible; the service sector for example. Some people make the assumption that this is now a threat to whitecollar workers more than blue – or it could be the opposite. “However, unemployment or underemployment seems likely to become an issue. OECD [The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development] and some universities have forecast that jobs will be lost, but the studies are not consistent so we can’t draw firm conclusions – but we can see how jobs are being removed, like at supermarkets.”

I’ve talked to blue- and white-collar workers and I can see that their perceptions are mixed. For both, we need to look at the consequences to the workers. It depends, in part, on the computer literacy of the worker or the individual in terms of how they use a computer and how they relate to the Internet – it is not simply a divide between blue-collar and white.

Looking at services more concretely, where automation has great potential, there is fear that more of those jobs will be lost and there is a concern about the next generation and whether there will be job opportunities for them. “In fact, we can’t really predict what jobs the children in the next generation will have. Deskilling is another consequence of automation; namely, the decreased opportunities for people to learn skills or to maintain any professional knowledge. The skills and knowledge that have defined a person will be lost to automation.”

Look back over the past, with its changing empires that rose and fell, and you can foresee the future, too.

Marcus Aurelius, Roman emperor and philosopher

This is why many people are opting for reskilling or upskilling. With these technologies there could also be different types of risk related to computing or cybersecurity where there would be loss of autonomy and control by humans, relying more on platforms or algorithms to make decisions. In fact, algorithm-based decision-making is one of the bigger consequences of automation. The same happens for nurses and the health professions. They are increasingly relating to the flies and the computer, in addition to directly taking care of patients. Nurses, in particular, are being controlled by aspects of IoT in terms of how often they wash their uniform, because a chip is integrated into it. In effect, nurses are being subjected to surveillance and their shift assignments are often algorithm-based, too. Or perhaps it could be someone driving a truck and they are feeling the impact of an algorithm telling them where to go.

“Ultimately, there’s no division in the impact; so, for labor unions, it’s one of the top priorities for discussion. Of course, people have a problem with wages first and then their concerns about digitization and automation. Really, I don’t think they want to rebel against it. They want to take part in it and shape the trend instead of making a revolution against it.”

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