Whether or not you know it 3 or like it — the “Internet of Things” is well on its way. With smart phones and smart televisions that monitor everything within “hearing distance” of the device, and thermostats that “know” if someone in the house, and the patterns of your life, we are well on the way to living in a world where every basic human need (or want) is “covered by a machine.” Amazon is peddling a device that brings us “one step closer to the all-knowing, ever-helpful home assistant that we’ve hoped for…”
And doesn’t it sound wonderful?
To be able to, as the story line goes in the Big Ball at Disney, simply get up in the morning and have your entire day planned for you without a thought — because your smart home already knows what you will think, like, not like, and how to arrange things to use the minimal amount of energy from the solar panels to get you there. Wow.
Before we get too caught up in the dream, maybe we need to consider whether this is really a dream — or a nightmare. Two points to think about in your rush to self-extinction.
The two keys are a pair of lies: “it’s only a computer watching me, the data is anonymized, no can watch me as a person, etc.” and “even if a human gets this information, they’ll be a disinterested human who’s primary goal is to make my life better anyway.”
First, the computer isn’t watching you through these devices. People are. The interface you see is an abstraction for a larger program, an information gathering scheme. The thermostat in your home that tracks your every move is an abstraction. Abstractions, as we like to say in the technology industry, are leaky. No matter how much you try and make the data not apply to a single person, to reduce the person to a member of a crowd, you will leak through. To carry this thought further, given the profit motive involved in controlling the lives of, say, several dozen people to the maximum possible degree, and the possible criminal use of this type of information, you can be assured the entire system will be designed to allow the abstraction to leak when it’s needed.
Do you like being naked before the state, especially when the state, itself, is quickly becoming criminal?
Second, once you leak through the abstraction, you, as a person, are not being watched by someone who cares to make your life better. You’re being watched, instead, by someone who wants to make their life better. It’s a fundamental rule of human nature that we are not often, even on our best of days, truly self-sacrificing. Human greed, in the name of making our lives “better,” knows no bounds. If we let it slip through our doors, into our living rooms, it will take over. And this is bottom line for the companies promoting this stuff — the ability to take a few more dollars out of our checking accounts in the name of “making your life better.”
In case we’ve missed the lesson, just look to the welfare-government complex as an example. Here we have a case where we pay people to “care” for the less fortunate among us. What we should have learned is that when you give people a material interest in “charity,” when you make it their job to dispense money to those who are “less fortunate,” the definition of “less fortunate” expands to the level of salary those paid to dispense this “charity” feel they need to prevent being “less fortunate” themselves. Hasn’t the entire attempt to equalize society through government intervention taught us anything? Apparently not, for we, like the mad person in the asylum next door, continue to do the same things over and over again while somehow expecting different results.
In the world of “the Internet of Things,” then, there is no promise that “you” won’t leak through the layer of carefully constructed abstractions being used to lull you into a feeling of safety — in fact, that’s the point. And once you’re exposed, there is no promise that “you” won’t be “nudged” to spend more and more and more, ’til we’re living the life of a coal miner in a big mining operation. “I owe my soul to the company store.”
To me, it seems most of the IoT scenarios are concerned less with making my life happier and more about positioning me carefully on a conveyor belt of consumption. As such, the smart home concept is another step towards productizing and monetizing our behind-closed-doors private lives – and towards reducing our choices as well, because making your life simpler very easily slips into making your life smaller, too. –Steve Ranger
It’s the second point made in this quote we should pay special attention to, though — the point about making our lives smaller. For in the end, the point of the “Internet of Things” is simple:
You are the thing attached to the Internet.
Think about it.