Alex Gluhak and Rob van Kranenburg: Invitation for an Open Dialogue on the societal implications of IoT technologies

Invitation for an Open Dialogue (IoT Week, June 19 1600-1745) on the societal implications of IoT technologies: The Internet of Things has gained considerable momentum in the last five years. While it is yet difficult to predict the shape of it by the end of the decade, it is certain that it will bring disruptive change not only to our economy but also to our social structure.
 
The first wave of IoT research and early IoT deployments has pre-dominantly targeted enterprise centric systems. The drivers behind such deployments are primarily the optimisation of business process, both in terms of efficiency and reduce costs. This is achieved by enabling more autonomous forms of decision making through real world information and interactions that the IoT provides, removing the human user from the loop together with its slow and error ridden interventions.
 
One of the dangers of such increasing technology autonomy is the redefinition of the human role that comes with it and the price way may have to pay for the newly gained efficiency and powers. One can easily draw parallels to the time of industrial revolution and manufacturing. Will the IoT destroy more jobs than it creates? What will be the new opportunities for humans arising and the role they should play in an emerging IoT enabled eco-system?
 
As with any disruptive technologies there is no doubt that there will be negative implications on some people and their current ways of life. However, how can we make sure that the transition from today’s economy to a future IoT enabled one can be managed in a way that it minimises the social disruption and ensure that the positive benefits of IoT prevail for the society at large, not just for individual organisations? 
The research and subsequent design and deployment of IoT technologies should not only focus on pure technical merit or capital gained achieved through business process optimisation. Instead of blind design, we have to reflect upon the implications that IoT technologies may have on our society, communities or individuals. Apart from ethical design consideration, we must make sure that the IoT does not remain a technology for the business elites, which increasingly gain in power. The Improved decision making capabilities enabled by the IoT should not remain in the hands of a few privileged entities but rather be considered a new public good that serves the interest of services the individuals and communities that our society is comprised of.
 
Further concerns come from the second wave of IoT deployments on which we currently embark. As IoT device become increasingly wide-spread and deployed in our households and cities, they will form a substrate that potentially contributes very detailed citizen centric information feeds. 
Connected sensors in our smartphones and cars or smart meters in our home are just the beginning of the new silent revolution. More intelligence about our behavioural patterns will find its way to large enterprise which will barter the fragments they obtain among each other to put together the pieces of the puzzle describing every aspect of our lives. 
 
The billions of citizen centric IoT data streams can unlock a huge innovation potential for our benefit, but great care must be given as good use and abuse are only inches apart. How can we make sure that personal information captured by the IoT is used for the benefit of the society at large and not only for the benefit individual organisation? Can we identify design patterns and governance mechanisms that can be embedded in technology solution to prevent their abuse or minimise damage that come from it?
 
In the light of the above, we believe it is time to open up a discussion among projects of the IERC cluster to more critically reflect about the societal implications of what we build. This discussion cannot be done by us “techies” in isolation, but requires involvements of other more user centred communities. 
 
Session: Societal Implications of IoT
Time: Wednesday, 19. June 2013, 16.00-17.45
The purpose of the session is to explore the interest in the creation of a new IERC activity chain that reflects upon societal implications of IoT technologies.
 

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