When we talk about the future, wandering minds drift toward watery visions of flying cars, personal robots, and hover boards where all work is banished by fully automated technology. I tend to picture this kind of future a bit more like Wall-E: humans as a race of fat sluggish incompetents surrounded by an entirely preset system. Thankfully this vision just doesn’t line up with reality.
The Internet of Things (IoT) in its current state is almost a tongue-in-cheek phrase representing the market for connected devices. Familiarity with smartphones that connect to the internet has sparked all sorts of new devices with similar compatibilities. These devices range from shades that sense the heat and direction of the sun, adjusting accordingly, to the already-standard Nest thermostat. What makes this technology unique is a dual-compatibility to “sense” its surroundings and to connect to the internet.
That is today. When we look at the future of the IoT, we need to take into account our world’s culture values. Technology is driven by what consumers want, but most people don’t really want to end up with how Wall-E depicts automation of experience rather than of environment. No one wants their computer to pick how they are going to dress. What they would like is a computer capable of presenting all their options, helping them find what they are looking for, placing an order, and delivering the package. The concern comes when looking at automating joyful activities: think of a computer taking over the technical joy of sailing, biking, writing, playing an instrument, etc. It’s a horrible thought. People don’t want to automate enjoyable difficulties.
Opening up the concept of the IoT, we discover that as time goes on, this technology should become, in a sense, less noticeable. As the design and technology behind the products becomes more powerful, homes will connect automatically in the background and every device will be infused with a sense of awareness. Picture waking up on a beautiful day, your shower’s temperature is set right where you like it, shades open automatically when you wake to let in the sun and you can hear the coffee maker beginning to brew downstairs. This is all set by a chain of events which will become even more subtle and seamless as time goes on. At some point, the house should even be able to recognize special days throughout the week and year and make change the environment accordingly. Other environments will be updated in a similar manner: restaurants will know what you ordered last time and waiters will be able to offer suggestions based on your past choices; and grocery shopping will be triggered by they way you read the recipe logged on your phone and direct you to the aisles. Simply put, every electronic device will have some level of human awareness. Products will fit into a greater web of connectivity, providing for simple transitions between the appliances that we use every day.
The Internet of Things is just the modern preliminary to the modern ecosystem, where objects are bound together in a way that promotes automation while preserving the activities you love.