It’s quite unfair, really, that the only things communicating meaningfully on this planet are animate things. Sure, we’ve got a lot to say, but inanimate things around us too are vying for the right outlet to add to the global conversation. For example, when we discover a cool gadget, store, or hiking bag we have the ability to tell our friends and family about it. So far, only humans have that privilege, as well as some other complex animals. I believe objects and other inanimate things should have the ability to do the same and tap into this network of communication. After all, we can’t live without these objects; objects which know a great deal about us and our habits — almost as much as we know about them.
Thus far, the conversation has been one-sided. The hiking bag that you depended on throughout your hike in Colorado should be able to show you off to its friends at an upstate NY hiking store. If you like the bag enough, it may be worth outfitting it with accessories. In turn, the bag becomes better as a functional companion, and this can only occur when the bag is made smart, and allowed to join the larger conversation.
This relationship, or marriage, in which animate beings can communicate with inanimate objects, is dubbed the “Internet of Things” (IoT). IoT is a place where a technologically produced object can meet up and hone special abilities to adapt, learn, interact, memorize and coordinate efforts with other objects to better serve the needs of their companions. Reaching the point where these types of relationships are commonplace, I believe, will be beneficially revolutionary. And while we have big technological obstacles before us, the greatest barrier may be a cultural one. For example, we may not like our belongings to be accessible via the Internet. We may not be comfortable with robot-like functionality interacting with us and making assumptions on our tastes and habits even though the potentialities are enormous.
However, as with all things new, the negatives are always initially more apparent. But over time we will grow more accustomed and learn to enjoy the benefits much like we overcame our general fear of technology, the debit card, microwave, or even spicy food. I know this sounds like the sad ending to a sci-fi plot we anticipated from the first scene of the movie. However, IoT is not the same as the Artificial Intelligence (AI) we see in these fantasy films. Rather, IoT is the premise of smart objects that can do interesting things, without consciousness (it is this element that inhibits them from joining humans as equals). We, humanity, will take the role of the intelligent but quite lazy spouse and technology will be the not too bright but extremely active and thorough companion. It will only be able to follow the commands we set in place fervently and without fail. Simply, it is a match we are all looking for.
It is, however, a good idea to question new technologies that are being developed so rapidly, that we can’t necessarily anticipate their long-term social and cultural impacts. The main concern surrounding IoT is actually a familiar one and very similar to any other piece of technology introduced into the world today. Who will adapt to whom: the conscious but lazy or the unconscious but active? Will we shape and adapt our lives around the technologies we produce, or do we produce technology that best suits our needs? In answering that, I think our relationship with technology, like any marriage, should be a two-way street to bring the best out of both parties. While we build technologies for us, we in turn will need to adapt as technology grows since “this is the only way the computer can do it.”
Expecting the human not to adapt, and thus creating technology that best suits our current state, will bring us easy and user-friendly technology; but the tech will also be basic and forever have a cap on its potential for advancement. Expecting people to fully adapt to the technology, and thus attempting to shape our lives around it, will bring the best out of technology but it will be user-unfriendly if at all comprehensible, thereby putting a cap on its potential by having only its immediate creators be able to use it.
There has to be an optimal compromise.
Certainly, we are already doing that with all of our smart-gadgets and other computer products: we meet half way, and IoT will be no different. That hiking bag will not develop Descartes’ “Cogito ergo sum” complex at any point. It’s just an object that wants to belong with similar objects that it and its “friends” think you will enjoy. It has the potential to do what you are too lazy or too busy to do yourself. In the case of purchasing the hiking bag, you may, all of a sudden, find yourself introduced to the hiking culture without even trying.
But whatever the case may be, IoT will be attentive and it shall serve you the right content while showing and bringing you just what you want to see.
Full Stack Developer