RvK: Talk for WUXI 2020: Internet of Things is at a crossroads, who can manage the hybrid society?

31/10/2020 - 23:44

Wuxi 2020 keynote

The ubicomp paradigm as expressed by Mark Weiser in his seminal text ‘The Computer for the 21th Century’: technology as a visible ‘actor’ disappearing over time in tools, in machines, in software and then fully in ‘the environment’, is now reality. 

Wuxi remote presentation

Internet of Things is at a crossroads. It has become life itself, at least in places like China where politicians and engineers have been working together to build a system of systems. 

In the West, Europe and the US, the political frameworks are tuned to an analogue and mechanical reality. They have failed to grasp the true hybrid nature of the technical turn and as a result they are split in a  very unproductive and costly fight between companies on the one hand and government institutions on the other. As long as this remains the case no positive energy can arise, only negative, exactly how we experience it now because of the acceleration of all issues due to the COVID virus.

We see a number of trends. 

The first is the limit of smartness:

    Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs in Toronto failed to show meaningful services and has been under constant attack from privacy activists since it conceived of this ‘bottom up’  smart city approach.

    5G development is hampered by financing, regulations, cybersecurity, privacy concerns, energy consumption, low adoption of supporting devices, criticality in landscape interaction (dealing with real estate interests, esthetics), evidence-supported, but also conspiracy-led health concerns and social inequalities as some social groups have more negotiation power than others in the decision upon towers positioning  (“not in my garden”.

    Jan-Peter Kleinhans argues that if Huawei or ZTE were not Chinese companies, there would be no #5G debate, as even after the Snowden revelations, there was no ban of Cisco equipment in European networks because of the trust in the US legal system and a mutually beneficial relationship. Cisco owns around 60% of the global network switch market. Kleinhaus argues further “5G networks promise to expand bandwidth and add lightning fast data transfer speeds, which will allow billions of smart devices to communicate on the Internet of Things (IoT). But the IoT cloud will be built, essentially, on the broken architecture of today’s internet, leading to an exponential increase in cybersecurity risks.” https://www.stiftung-nv.de/de/publikation/5g-vs-national-security

    In Mapping the Anti-5G Campaign, Ben Decker explains how Global Disinformation Index  has mapped the anti-5G narrative finding orchestrated campaigns on social media for an adversarial narrative against 5G, rendering calm argument-based discussion difficult and complex. 

The second is the growing regulation that is coming in the EU, specifically on IoT.

On July 16, 2020, “the European Commission (the “Commission”) launched a sector inquiry into the market for consumer products and services linked to the Internet of Things (“IoT”) (see the Press release announcing the launch of the sector inquiry). The sector inquiry will cover products such as smart home appliances (TVs, fridges, lighting systems, etc.), and wearable devices, such as smartwatches and fitness trackers. The regulator will also collect information on the services which can be accessed from these devices or via voice assistants, including Amazon’s Alexa or Apple’s Siri.”

According to Commission vice-president Vestager, the consumer IoT is expected to grow significantly in the coming years and become part of the daily lives of European consumers. In Europe alone, the Commission expects the value of the smart home market to almost double in the next four years to reach a forecasted €27 billion.


The third is the growth of new business models based on ‘events’: combinations of human behavior, data from sensors and analytics and AI from Big Data.

In the current governmental and commercial relationship frameworks, policy makers and enterprise architects are used to dealing with three groups of actors:
•          citizens/end-users
•          industry/SME
•          governance/legal
The data flow of IoT creates new entities consisting of different qualities taken from the former three groups. The central feature of this development is that the core identities of ‘people”, “goods’, ‘(legal) events’ become fluid as properties, attributes and/or credentials become the building blocks for creating specific event-oriented  identities fit for purpose and time-constrained.
The hardest concept to grasp in this phase in the digital transition, the hybrid, is the relative (semi) autonomous political gaze of the network itself. This network is a balance of cloud and edge services (data storage on the device), with AI running inside objects in everyday activities (wearables, washing machines, cars). 

For this network all its users are ‘entities’, these can be machines, people and processes (templates of predefined scenarios). It becomes clear that ‘identity’, as in singular identities , is no longer a relevant and productive concept, if we remove the political, controlling and marketing potentials. New models in insurance in the case of an accident with a self-driving car reason as follows: the car gets awarded a temporary identity, the person(s) involved get awarded temporary identity, the rock the car hits before it goes into the water receives a temporary identity, as well as the (pollution in) the water. 

The combined result of this becomes an ‘event’ identity.  It is a combination of these identities; an event identity-  on the basis of which liability, accountability and eventually some form of payment will be either demanded or made. These event identities are combinations of real events, inferred behavior and context from surrounding sources (camera's, sensors, wearables) and proactive scenarios purely existing in virtual (non-embodied) analytics combined with AI capabilities. 

The main task of a political structure is to bring these event identities under multi-stakeholder control.

These three trends will lead to further polarization of actors in the West as more and more capabilities are moved outside of the public structures funded with taxes of citizens.

In China it is the ability to deal with conflict on a daily basis, managing disruption daily, that will enable a much more stable future, as it has currently at least a decade head start in learning to navigate a hybrid society. In such a world it is not just the quality of the analogue reality and the virtual soft and hardware but the quality of the interaction of both resulting in a higher quality of life for all actors.

It is logical that elements of care, empathy and control were pervasive and vital in creating the requirements for this system of systems. It will now be the strategic ability to ‘let go’, to ‘relax’, to let new forms of quality and business models flow from and through this system.