Dean Quinn shows us why The Internet of Things is a futuristic trend that’s set to screw up our lives…
“If you make sure you’re connected, the writing’s on the wall. But if your mind’s neglected, stumble you might fall.”
So sang the Stereo MCs back in 1992 (eep) and looking back, ‘Connected’ may have been more than just a catchy post-rave generation ‘indie dance’ track. Perhaps it was actually a precautionary tale of a bleak dystopian future, in which humanity finds itself enslaved by omnipresent data exchanges between previously inanimate objects.
Yep, you heard it here first. The Stereo MCs actually predicted the ‘Internet of Things’, over two decades ago.
What the hell is this ‘Internet of Things’ malarkey?
For those not au fait with the whole Internet of Things (IoT) shenanigans, the basic premise is that innocuous devices such as fridges and cheese graters will soon be capable of recording and sharing great swathes of data about us. As technology becomes smarter and cheaper and processors shrink to the size of a pinhead, pretty much everything will become connected, eventually melding together in to a super-massive internet-like network.
And of course our lives will be all the better for it. Right?
Free-range, hand-fed radishes
If, like us, you’re naturally suspicious of the impending techno-super-future, then IoT should be pretty high on your list of terrifying concepts. At least top five. Especially if you’re a fan of things like civil liberties and privacy.
Whilst there are probably benefits to having a fridge that knows when you’re running low on free-range, hand-fed radishes (or whatever it is that discerning hipster-types subsist on), automatically placing an order to whichever supermarket has risen to global dominance, just think of all the personal data that concepts such as this can and will collect.
So someone (or something) somewhere knows that you’re easily duped into the latest pointless health fads – big deal, yeah?
But those wireless binary signals shunted off by your Android-powerd Smeg could also be painting an altogether different picture of you, to an altogether different group of organisations. Some of which want to transform you from a living, breathing human with a haircut and opinions, to a set of preferences, location data and marks on a disposable income gradient. Basically, we’re going to exist as little more than a set of ones and zeroes on some massive Excel document.
In fact, the process has already begun, and the consequences for humanity could be pretty bloody awful.
The decline has already begun
If you hadn’t noticed, our daily lives, relationships and movements are already monitored and monetised. Whether it’s Facebook turning friendship into a commodity, Twitter lacing your conversations with ads, or Google Now knowing that you stop off at a particular pub after the match on a Saturday. We’ve unwittingly stumbled headlong into a surveillance culture, often aiding and abetting those that want to pry along the way via our insatiable desire to pocket the latest tech.
At present, the myriad devices that can capture and share data about us are, for the most part, controlled by us. We can tell Google’s GPS location services to do one, and deny incessant requests from app makers, service providers and developers to provide feedback ‘so we can improve our services’. But that data is always being collected in the background, even if the various parties have given us their word that it won’t be shared.
Soon we could reach a point when previously innocuous things like bus shelters, food processors and toilet hand dryers are keeping digital tabs on our movements, habits and preferences. And when that happens, will we always be given the choice to keep our personal habits, however disgusting, to ourselves?
What IoT is essentially doing is giving a voice to things that previously didn’t have one, and if the spread of social media over the past few years has taught us anything, it’s that this is rarely a good idea.
When the day comes that our knackered old hatchback tells our insurance provider that we’ve been driving like a dog, we could find ourselves lumped with the kind of horrific premium hike that will have us dropping to our knees.
Targeted advertising is only going to get more intrusive too. Your laptop notices that you spend lots of time on ‘FilthyGermanHousemaids.com’, so it dobs you in to your telly, which then fires adverts for the latest barely-legal European pornos straight at your eyeballs, as you’re settling down to watch a rom-com with your missus.
And don’t forget that all of that lovely, lucrative data will be collated, repurposed, re-sold and manipulated all over the shop, by the very faceless corporations that make these connected devices.
This unprecedented access to our lives will only increase as the Internet of Things expands, leaving us open to more manipulation from shadowy techno-meglo-corps and governments. Even your cat will be able to inform the relevant authorities that it’s been fed nothing but old Pot Noodles all week.
Perhaps the Stereo MCs were right and we really have stumbled and fallen without noticing, right into an irreversible hyper-connected nightmare.