Science is running out in front of Science Fiction these days at a goodly rate. And not just the Ivory Tower/multi-verse/string theory/quantum this-and-that crowd either. As way out as the academics can be, the nuts-and-bolts engineering group is running right out there with them. Take the “Internet of Things,” please.
The junior geniuses of the tech/entrepreneur class tend to do things for the same reason that a dog licks his own dick: because they can. Often they don’t give any more thought to what they do than the dog does. It has come to their attention that many things are already controlled by CPU’s, and that some of those things can be remotely monitored or operated. “So,” they figure, “why don’t we do that with everything?” And they mean everything too, from the locks on your door to the egg compartment of your refrigerator.
As is so often the case, there is a good deal of naiveté about the enterprise, a lot of pure greed, and a dangerous disregard for consequences. I’m sure that there are great advances to be made in fields like manufacturing and logistics, but the tech boys go much further.
“Just imagine!” they say with their stupid, probably youthful enthusiasm, “you could be at work and tell your slow-cooker to start exactly six hours before you got home!” Isn’t that how slow-cookers work in the first place? “It’ll be so great,” they’re getting worked up now, “you can connect your coffee maker to your phone (and your rice cooker too, if you enjoy the Asian lifestyle) and whatever time you set the phone alarm for, the coffee (and the rice) will be ready when you wake up!”
Do these strike you as game-changing advantages in life? I didn’t think so.
Of course, these things are only the beginning. There’s a lot of hyperbole involved. These wild men envision a world where every single outlet, bulb, and device in every building of any kind in the entire world is constantly communicating with its fellows, through either local or vast networks, the Internet, the web, the cloud, or the fog (whatever that is).
Oh, and don’t forget all of the vehicles, every one of them in the world, not to mention the roads and bridges, etc. All connected, monitored and reporting data. You yourself will be hooked up! What a relief to know that your very first irregular heartbeat will be reported to “your doctor.” Sorry for the sarcasm. I can’t help it sometimes.
Did I say hyperbole? Some of these guys say that this Internet of Things will be a new industrial revolution, that it will so increase efficiency and productivity that all of society’s problems will melt away.
The cheerleaders remind me of the science writers in the 1950’s who told us that advances in nuclear power and automation would give us a new age of prosperity and leisure. We all know how that one worked out. The productivity gains all happened as predicted, but every bit of the benefit went to the corporations and their investor class. Working people are working harder than ever, and producing more, with nothing to show for it. Does anyone think that this new explosion in productivity will work out any differently? There’s very little discussion of the harm that all of this could do. The dangers of hacking, surveillance, thievery and mischief of all kinds. Not to mention the chaos and frustration! I mean, already I can’t get my Android phone to communicate with my wi-fi. Now I’ll be expected to get everything in the house to communicate with everything else. That, I say with confidence, will not be possible.
Look, I’m no Luddite but this all sounds like a terrible idea to me. I don’t even like any automatic things in general. I have always hated automatic transmissions in cars, for example. I have to sit there anyway, so why not make my own gear selections? I work a gearbox better than any automatic transmission that I’ve ever driven. I do like my rice cooker, but that’s about as far as I’m willing to go.
By all means connect everything in your factory, and put chips on shipping boxes to assist in tracking them. I do see the possibilities for enhanced productivity and energy efficiency. You can even keep the increased profits, Mr. Industrialist. But leave me out of it.
If I forget that I’m out of eggs on the evening before I want to make French toast for breakfast, I can live with that. Yes, a “smart egg tray” in your refrigerator is one of the big ideas floating around. And my doctor can trust me to keep up with my schedule of medication. He doesn’t need automatic updates from my smart pill caddy. And no, I don’t want my medical insurance carrier notified every time I have a drink or two over the recommended maximum. That’ll be in the cards before too long. And why would anyone support a system that would allow the government or any interested party to know where anybody at all happens to be at any time? Efficiency my ass, this is techno-fascism.
In fact, it’s insane, but it will happen (because it can). To paraphrase the eminently quotable Salvatore Dali: struggle neither for nor against modernity, it’s the one thing that you cannot avoid.
Please ask yourself, who will benefit? People will be tricked into paying for most of the infrastructure (the devices) and the corporations will reap the financial rewards. Not only those provided by increased productivity, but also those stemming from the huge amount of data that will be accumulated and sold for purposes that can only be guessed at. Marketing interests, no doubt, but also employers and potential employers and health providers. Not to mention the government, which will be able like Johnny-on-the-Spot to control your behavior in detail. Even Winston Smith in “1984” had only the telescreens to worry about. We’ll be surrounded by little spies.
It’ll be great!