A while back, the employees at Google took a stand. They saw that some of their work in the exciting area of Artificial Intelligence was being used in various military projects, and they protested. In some ways, this was a very honourable stand, as they did not want to be involved in other people's demise. However, in other ways, it was a bit hypocritical, as the technology was already used in many different ways that were harmful to the masses in less obvious ways.

 

Nevertheless, the idea of developers protesting was at least the start of the technology world growing a conscious. It begs the critical question: does the IoT Industry need to develop a conscious in the future?

As I have stated for years, IoT is all about information. On its own, IoT is not the most useful technology, as the raw data that it gathers may not be all that useful to the average person. 

 

Imagine being told the exact temperature of your living room every minute of every day for an entire year. You will have over a million readings, but without the information being put into some contexts, such as graphs, charts or other usable forms, most people will have little use for this information. IoT is being used effectively by just about every industry and by millions of consumers each day. When your Nest device can adjust your temperature to save you money, it is doing so by gathering sensor-based information and acting on it. The same holds for retailers who use IoT to increase their displays' appeal, a restaurant using IoT to ensure that their food doesn't spoil and a nuclear energy provider using it to prevent unwanted accidents.

 

So, it sounds like IoT is the best thing to ever happen to civilization, right? 

 

Well, there is a not so great side. 

 

Remember the protests from the Google employees? Thanks to IoT-based solutions, their AI solutions would not likely be nearly as effective without gathering tons of information. However, no one seems to mention that part. And, there are also much less dramatic examples of IoT being involved in not-so-great solutions. When one talks about the world of Automation, IoT has its tentacles into just about every solution. When a robot replaces a human at an Amazon warehouse, it does so only with an astounding amount of IoT information. During the design process, IoT allows for the necessary information to program the device to be collected. Once the product is installed, sensors ensure that the device is operating efficiently and is not running into other workers. Should people in the IoT world feel guilty about being part of a solution that displaces workers?

 

It also does not stop at blue-collar jobs being affected. IoT is used at many different industrial facilities to provide real-time information about temperature, humidity, the presence of humans and dozens of other variables. We always talk about how this improves safety and productivity, but what we are saying is that you may not need to have as many employees on-site as before, are we not?

 

Think about a world where IoT is genuinely ubiquitous. Every machine in your home, office and school is monitored, every street light, traffic light, pump and valve are all adequately maintained due to IoT. What do you think happens to the headcount of those whose living involves servicing and installing these devices when they last much longer and do not break down as often? We can try to spin it about how much productivity gains and better return on investment you get for your purchases, and that is true. However, we fail to mention that this gain comes at the expense of people losing their jobs.

 

IoT will make science fiction movies come to life

 

In past material, I have referenced the movie "The Minority Report" before. In the film, where a futuristic society is shown, IoT is behind most of the technology. This ranges from identifying people with eye scans, displays that recognize people at stores, self-driving cars and more. While some of these things may seem like progress to many, they seem like a lack of privacy to others. Imagine how many times in a day, you may be recognized or identified in such a society. Does it seem like a huge stretch that some will fear that "big brother" may not always legally use this information? 

 

Will you ever genuinely have privacy if audio sensors, a big part of IoT deployments in some devices, can record your conversations? Combine this with your location being recorded, and one starts to think that some of this technology may not be as great as the movies make it sound. How much responsibility should the IoT industry take for a potential loss in personal privacy? We can always claim that we are only a small part of a solution, and we have no control over how our devices may be used. While there is some validity to that statement, it is also a relatively convenient way of excusing our role in the whole process.

 

What should the IoT industry do?

 

I don't think that anyone is proposing that we stop selling IoT sensors, gateways, network connectivity and software anytime soon. As well, one can always look at the negative side of any device or software if you want. For example, the automobile has done so much for society, so should we stop building them because some people decided to use them as a weapon in a murderous rage? I do think that the IoT industry needs to take some responsibility in some cases. We need not deny that our products are used to gather information for machines that may cause destruction, whether in the form of losing their job or a weapon of mass destruction. Unlike the team at Google that we are developing software, many IoT companies have zero influence in the end products built with their components inside. So, no one is proposing that we stop selling products that truly help the world become a better place. We need to start accepting our role; however, in some of the products that are not doing so. You can't claim how you are part of a technology that is changing the world without accepting the fact that, in some cases, those changes are used in destructive ways.