According to media reports, internet of things technology seems to be unstoppable at the moment. It can help us order goods, analyze data and even build smart cities. Industry insiders promise that IoT technology can benefit everyone, but is this really the case?
In San Francisco, a young engineer hopes to “optimize” his life with sensors that can track heart rate, breathing and sleep cycles. In Copenhagen, Denmark, a moving bus transmits its location and number of passengers to the municipal traffic information network every two minutes, effectively planning the signal times for the three intersections ahead, allowing drivers to flow smoothly. In Davao, Philippines, a swiveling webcam overlooks a fast-food warehouse, monitoring everyone who comes and goes.
This is what we call the “Internet of Things” – linking all the different devices together through a network. Technology expert Mike Kuniavsky pioneered the idea, describing it as “embedded computing devices and data communications distributed throughout the environment.” I prefer its original meaning: colonization (integrated control) of daily life through information processing.
Although the word “colonization” seems a bit aggressive, with the emergence of the Internet of Things, various human ambitions will indeed be satisfied. The Internet of Things is not a single technology. The various devices, services, providers and connections involved all serve the same end goal: to collect data that can then be used to measure and control the world around us.
If a project has such a high design plan for our daily lives, it is crucial to clarify what its main idea is and what benefits it pursues. Although there are no rules for the Internet of Things and the quality cannot be measured, we can get a more specific meaning by observing at three scales: our bodies (“self-quantification”), our homes (“smart homes”) and Our public spaces (“smart cities”). Each scale shows the impact that the Internet of Things has on us, and each level has something different to guide us.
At the individual level, IoT exists in the form of wearable biometric sensors. The simplest of these are connected digital pedometers, which measure the distance a person has walked by counting steps and providing an estimate of the energy consumed during the activity. More sophisticated devices are able to measure heart rate, respiration, skin temperature and even perspiration.
In theory, if wearable biometric devices like the Fitbit and Apple Watch are meant to cater to users’ self-discipline, colonization of the home environment with similar connected products and services is meant to provide a very different experience: Convenience. The goal of this “smart home” effort is to use devices to shorten the process between the emergence of desires and their fulfillment.