Rob van Kranenburg: What kind of values do we want in a fully connected and connectable world?

That was the key question that resulted from the Delft workshop at April 2 organized by Jeroen van  den Hoven and his team as part of the subgroup Ethics of the Expert Group on IoT for the European Commission.


Angela Pereira (co-organizer) from JRC IPSC, framed the question after a full day of discussion and presentations.


The group assumed that connectivity will grow, that it will become more difficult to disconnect, so that social and ethical question should be foregrounded, as technically IoT as an ecology of barcodes, passive and active rfid, smart cameras and augmented reality, 6Lowpan and Ipv6 is already there, though not evenly distributed.

Walter Pieters calls the convergence towards an ambient intelligence or connected environment: de-perimeterisation (de-p), the disappearance of boundaries between information entities . This move towards an integral reality across traditional legal, business, social and cultural concepts towards a single environment,  could not be foreseen in even the most integrated vision on system theory, that of Luhmann.

His notions of “strict coupling” -that is designing for perimeters so function creep becomes minimal and leaks of one domain into the other becomes the focus of security, is itself disappearing because 'natural' causal insulation – the very agency of us humans to design cause and effect in a hierarchical way is disappearing.

The expertise gathered and displayed by the Ethics and Technology Group in Delft is fuelled by the presence of Industrial Design and a culture of making. According to the host, Jeroen van den Hoven, ethics is a trigger for innovation, not a drawback. In analogy to the concept of the Privacy Coach that sees privacy as a unique selling point, and inclusive design that claims that designing objects for all handicaps brings simply better objects, he sees ethics as bringing equilibrium in a range of variables that caters to the widest possible of variance while following the path of least resistance. It is a pragmatic view that ties in very well with the fact that we are in a realtime world where it becomes harder to distinguish between research and innovation, between pilots and launch and learn and between the leading roles of industry, governance and end users. The deeper issues

●    invisibility – informed consent
●    informational complexity – dynamic  environment – 'us' ignorant about what we are doing
●    intensionality :  IC A & IC B does not entail IC (A&B) - datamining

combined with the meshing of data and object networks and exploding data by both, resulting in the emergence of privacy and social justice as key issues, must be frontloaded into the architec ture of smart systems, objects, apps and services. In a world of more agility and agency for end users, one does no longer simply implement new services. The Netherlands has shown this with the smart meter failure of adoption and acceptance. Because of this the roll out will be fragmented and build on levels of 'smartness (from 'off' to measuring 6 times  a year to measuring and sending data every 15 minutes), something of a very new situation to the energy providers.

Throughout the day it became clear that now is not the time to build even more abstract models, but to get down to the messy reality of startups in internet of things platforms (see the list on, products such as Twine that run on AA+ batteries, and unorganized and uncoordinated rolling out of commercial RFID and active sensors that are causing unnecessary EMF.

We are beyond ideological debates, van den Hoven says; the outer ends of privacy activists and i-have-nothing-to-hide evangelists will never really meet in a productive way. Our interest should lie with the middle, the grey areas where acceptance is a process, loyalties switch easily, faith in institutions, banks, corporate culture and national states is low. He claims that the best pragmatic approach is to speak of 'data protection for moral reasons'. An urgent task then seems to be to make a taxonomy of moral reasons with as many stakeholders as possible.

The smart meter debate seems to present itself then as a model for other services and as a lesson for to take social acceptance not as a given, or a drawback but as a possible co creator of value.  This is a key issue in the work of Layla Alabdulkarim that centers around building a model that can inform surveys and apps on social acceptance levels of new services and technologies.

Our key question: W hat are the values in IoT? Implies that we should be able to answer the question:

Why do we need these smart meters at all?

Not only from the point of view of sustainability, or grid operator logic but from a public involvement perspective as well. We therefore must parse any debate on IoT to the question:

Why do we want a smart society?

What are the key positive points for all stakeholders involved? What are the drawbacks? If we don't then we will have to face and fight acceptance battles with the same pro and con arguments over the smart meter, the smart fridge (safety and efficiency), the smart car (mobility and bringing down 420.000 deaths in the EU every decade), the smart ipv6 lamps (sharing local energy), the smart t-shirt (e-health and the Quantified Self Movement), and ...

It is our job to look into the issues as they are now, and to project a full IoT environment into a relatively near future (re the acceleration in combinatorial innovation) and work back from that. In this more proactive framework we can predict the emergence of new entities and actors. If we picture governance, industry and end users each as entities with a specific set of qualities, then these new entities will consist of some qualities of end users (agility, real time), some qualities of governance (distributed processes of standardization among super users) and some qualities of industry (new business models fostered by leasing not owning as a dominant user model in IoT)

One of these new entities that emerged during the day was that of the private grid operator. Individuals home owners can potentially make money by selling energy at the right time. How will such an actor behave him or herself? No one knows.  Florent Frederix commented that one thing is certain for the grid operators people are no longer simple 'connections' but real clients; prosumers. They have to learn how to deal with them. They are learning fast. Their trajectory can be an important example for other services to follow.

Incentivize, more then educate, emerged as an action point for all stakeholders involved:

✔     how do we get  the smart meter interoperable with other smart devices that will have Ipv6?
✔     how do we make  the smart meter interoperable with the neighboorhoud and the street? Can we build micro grids?

Suppose we build incentives on the current trend of sharing content, context and resources (cars, houses, homes as hotels, things......) open data initiatives  and financial schemes where consumers can trade data for value as in the smart grid)? This is the focus of a small study that Rob van Kranenburg has been commissioned for by the European FP7 project IOT-i. A first kick off workshop will be during IOT week in Venice, June 18.


Florent Frederix,  Angela Pereira, Paula Curvelo, Rob van Kranenburg, Erwin Kooi, Engin Bozdag, Martijn Warnier, Christian Detweiler, Francien Deschenne, Layla Alabdulkaim, Zofia Lukszo, Ernst ten Heuvelhof, Walter Pieters,  Job Timmermans & Jeroen van den Hoven (organizers)

A formal report will be online soon.

Rob van Kranenburg is a member of the Expert Group on Internet of Things for the European Commission.


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