Internet of Things (Version 1.0)
The Internet of Things (IoT) holds the promise of the future in a pithy, Silicon Valley catchall for any non-browser Internet experience. In this age, devices promise us data which is pervasive, convenient, useful and accurate.
However, even with all that sparkle, the IoT fanfare is missing something. Mark Bonchek and Sangeet Paul Choudary’s Harvard Business Review article “The Age of Social Products” (and the subsequent Inc. piece, Will Yankowicz "Get Ready for the Social Network of Things") challenges us to think about the increasingly networked nature of our world in a more ambitious way. We’ve been approaching the IoT concept from the idea of machines talking to their humans and vice versa, but not doing the work of setting up social networks between the machines and devices themselves. To really get at the further implications of this emerging connectivity, it is useful to invoke the concept of the cyborg—but first we need to make sure we understand clearly what the progression from the IoT to Social Network of Things (SNT) entails.
The Internet of Things: Creating the Need for Platforms
In the Internet of Things, systems and data are mostly closed to other systems and data sets. Difficulties in coordinating multiple companies and legacy systems make redundant data necessary—for example, a power company can gather simple data about overall energy usage while another company’s thermostat gathers a different version of the same data, from a different but perhaps duplicated set of sensors.
Purposes for our devices are still relatively isolated—a thermostat’s display is just to adjust the furnace’s temperature, and a wristwatch that monitors heart function is doing only that.
Devices are designed within the constraints of our current view of the future, with the hope that whatever functions and capabilities they are made with will be good enough for potential uses down the line.
Information from our devices, like the smart meter referenced earlier, are mostly about reporting data from the (usually recent) past.
The challenges of the IoT mostly center around privacy and interoperability. The old networks and systems struggle to keep data secure while stretching their capabilities and infrastructure to innovate as much as possible. Old devices and new devices have less in common as innovation accelerates, and without platform-thinking interoperability is a major issue. Engineers and developers are increasingly called upon to manage security and capabilities, while designers and strategists must find ways to productize new sources of data and what that data is telling us. Devices are helping people and processes increase efficiency and can even learn if directed by a human operator. Information becomes available quickly but not quite instantly, and most of the data collected about humans is linked to direct input by humans in some form or other.
Challenges of the IoT
Privacy vs. functionality
Network security vs. innovation
Roles Necessitated by the IoT
Characteristics of the IoT
Using devices to be more efficient
Machine learning driven by humans
Product thinking (rather than platform)
On-demand information about the recent past (what just occurred)
Data feedback loop is simple/for humans
The Google Maps Example
Web-enabled GPS navigation is an IoT technology. It took decades for this tech to make it to the consumer level, and now it is becoming at least somewhat pervasive in environments with high technology usage and good network access. In such a system, we are taking the concept of traffic radio, paper maps and some intuition and combining them into a system which drastically increases the ease of use for the end user. However, such systems by no means utilize the full potential of the technologies at hand even with existing devices.
In this system, we have a limited set of tools—GPS satellite coordinates, local sensors and phones, basic network connections and a shared data store—combining various pieces of information to provide everyone on the network more accurate traffic and routing information. Web-enabled GPS in your vehicle provides huge improvements in ease of use, but it doesn’t solve the problems which cause traffic in the first place.