There was a time around the late ‘90s/early ‘00s when people talked about the way all things would be connected in the future and that your bin would automatically register your need for more milk when you threw out the carton, while you could remotely peruse the contents of your fridge and make plans for dinner. It all seemed incredible back then.
But here’s the thing – today, right now, I can turn on the lights at home from the other side of the world with just a click on my iPhone. I can activate the underfloor heating from my phone to come on when I land back from a long night’s travelling so that my house is warm when I arrive. Suddenly the bin that orders your replacement shopping for you seems less like science fiction and more like a brilliant solution to the hard working men and women of today.
It’s all got me thinking about my role in the Internet of Things. I’ve started wearing a fitbit to keep track of my activity and sleep levels and, when I feel so inclined, even use the data I collect to compete with my friends and colleagues. In essence data has turned my daily activities into somewhat of an immersive gaming experience. Without even thinking about it I generate data that could help in medical and clinical trials as well as research studies. There is an incredible power to the access we have today to our personal data.
Yet, there is a concern here and it comes down to this – privacy. If data about the number of steps I took yesterday and the temperature I like my kitchen at is being transmitted across the networks how can I be sure that this highly personal data is safe? And what is my personal limit on the data I’ll share with the broader network? The potential wealth of information and data that can be captured is enormous but what has yet to be established are the human boundaries that will limit what is captured, how it’s used and where.
For example, some countries have a higher risk from the diabesity epidemic than others – could we see a time when countries mandate use of wearable technology to tackle an endemic problem of an increasingly sedentary population? The technology is here today to enable just that but how will we, personally, manage the resulting invasion of privacy and independence?
What it comes down to is one question. Who owns the data we, personally, generate? Sir Tim Berners Lee talked about just this dichotomy between our right to privacy and our need for trust with data storage solutions at The Web We Want conference recently and reiterated that while we may share data, privacy remains a fundamental right. Given that, where should the responsibility lie for keeping our personal data safe within the growing data clouds around us?
I believe it is a question that will require collaborative thinking from technologists, politicians and individuals alike – perhaps resulting in something like the Digital Magna Carta Sir Tim has been championing. In the meantime, I’m holding out for a kitchen so connected it can make my early morning coffee, with me having to do nothing more than tell my fitbit that I’m awake.
What’s your view on the Internet of Things? Tell us in the comments below