By Laura Forlano, assistant professor, Illinois Institute of Technology.
In a world where connected devices are becoming increasingly commonplace — from fitness trackers to home appliances to adaptive traffic signals and smart grids — the question might be more appropriately rephrased as: How many networked light bulbs does it take to change a light bulb?
Currently, there is great enthusiasm about the Internet of Things (IoT) as these connected devices are more broadly known with companies vying to educate and capture various parts of the market by offering a wide range of trainings, grants and developer’s tools.
I remember the first time I heard the term “internet of things” mentioned by Lara Srivastava who at the time was working in the Strategy and Policy Unit of the International Telecommunications Union on a panel at the World Summit on the Information Society meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, in 2003. Visions of ubiquitous computing are often traced back to Mark Weiser’s well-known Scientific American article “The Computer for the 21st Century.”
« Are we building systems of technologies that will allow for choice among a wide range of competitors or locking them into monopolistic business practices? »
In present discussions of networked devices in the mainstream media, we are revisiting many familiar policy issues around the privacy and security of the data that will be collected, transmitted and stored. Equally important is whether these networks rely on common standards, interoperable protocols and open source software (and, even hardware).
Are we building systems of technologies that will allow for choice among a wide range of competitors or locking them into monopolistic business practices? Are we able to understand, control and ‘hack’ the devices that we choose to adopt? Who is included and who is excluded from these systems based on inherent biases with respect to race, class, gender, sexuality or other socio-cultural factors? Finally, how are other values — beauty and aesthetics (which are no less political), happiness and well-being, social and environmental sustainability as well as the right to be disconnected — being considered in these debates?
Here are a few recent design and engineering projects that might help broaden the discussion around openness, sharing and peer production in the IoT: the needy toaster, the ethical fan and littleBits.