Our conception of what we count as “technology” is changing, and the Internet of Things is (admittedly somewhat slowly) bringing in changes unimaginable to our forebears. To the Bronze Age man, a piece of flint was the highest tech, just as the Spinning Jenny was to the Industrialist. For the last few decades we’ve thought of TVs, computers, and phones as “technology”. Any non-digital item is… just there; nothing to write home about. But, really, think about those remarkable little feats of engineering we’ve come to underestimate that people were once amazed by: kettles, electric toothbrushes and central heating. With the ideal modern home getting an “Internet of Things” makeover, the high-end version of almost every item in your household will soon be smart – if it’s not already.
We see constant announcements of household objects or clothing that have been Internet-ofThings-ifyied. And these objects will get a new lease on life in our expectations. The smart home is a radical shift in both the conception of “technology” and of “home.”
Why should I want to be part of the Internet of Things?
When these objects become something beyond a material object, they allow you to be more ‘human’. They become an extension of you that does the stuff you don’t want to do. Jonney Shih, chairman of ASUS, claimed that “For decades, humans have dreamed of owning [a companion] that is smart, dear to our hearts, and always at our disposal.” A toaster that, with a bit of fiddling on your smartphone, remembers how brown you like your toast (even when you don’t – is it setting 3 or setting 4 that gets my toast just right?) and toasts your bread is a little part of you, and your day, outsourced to a machine. (We’ve covered outsourcing our brainpower to smartphones before – read the blog post here.)
You can thus be more ‘you’. You don’t have to stand around in the kitchen, watching out that your toast won’t get burnt. Instead, you are free to read a Whitman poem or look at the memes your friends sent you overnight (or whatever you’d rather do in the morning). Though one toasting session’s worth of time isn’t long, all this saved time accrued with other smart objects will build up to significant time – and headspace – saved.
What are the cons in us hooking up to the Internet of Things?
But you’ll also have to give these smart objects a bit of ‘you’, too. Smart objects collect a lot of data. Companies will know exactly when you’re using their products, and they may well sell this information on. And smart objects are, unfortunately, still highly hackable. TechCrunch covered one case where a security developer left a one-star review of a smart electric socket that detailed all its security flaws – and they’re big. Indeed, tech news sites are full of stories about webcams being hacked, or baby monitors, or switched-off smart TVs. Anything, basically, connected to the Internet and with a MAC address. It is estimated that there are 20-50 billion devices connected to the Internet in the world. That’s a lot of hackable Things in our Internet of Things. And there’s only so much duct tape (and patience) we can be bothered to cover our webcams with.
And this is undoubtedly the main issue with turning non-connected items into smart ones: where there are new strengths, there are whole new areas of weakness. An analog door, for example, if locked with no key to hand can be kicked in: it is dependent only on its frame and hinges. A smart door is dependent upon its frame, hinges, internet connection, connectivity with the hub. And that’s presuming it’s only malfunctioning rather than being hacked. The Internet of Things may not bring about the robot revolt Asimov predicted (I’m guessing that won’t happen for another… oh… half-century at least), but it would certainly be a case of tech working against us.
Hope for the Internet of Things
But by the time that most of the smartphone generation have a smart home, these kinks should hopefully be ironed out. As a twentysomething living in rented accommodation in London, the chances of me (and others like me) investing a relatively complex, expensive system of connected material objects for their “home” is quite slim. Thing will have changed, however, by the time millennials are homeowners (it’ll happen someday, fingers crossed). The Internet of Things will have developed so much that smart objects will be the only kind of tech we know, we will have forgotten life before digital personal assistants, and tech security concerns will be a thing of the past. This will either be because they’ll be remedied or we just won’t care. We may well feel that the pros of everything being connected to our smartphones outweigh the cons.
Though most millennials’ apartments hardly lend themselves to becoming smart homes, Siri’s evolution from disappointing mobile novelty to hopefully-less-disappointing laptop personal assistant will plant the seed in our heads of what the near future could be. And the future is soothing female voice assistants like Amazon’s Alexa rather than the robot butlers of 50s and 60s sci-fi. We may see humanoid robots for the home emerge in the market here and there. But the future is really behind-the-scenes connectivity and, through the Internet of Things, taking our pretty-good analogue objects and making them really-great digital ones.
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