The Internet of Things: Are All Things Considered?
When my kitchen sink was clogged last month, I grabbed the strainer out of the drain and placed it with my left hand above the trash can. I then banged it with the strainer upside down and this got rid of the dirt clogging the strainer. But suddenly, my Internet-connected watch tapped me on my wrist, and I got a message on my watch screen: “It looks like you have taken a hard fall”. I immediately canceled the alert and did not let my watch call emergency.
A few days later, I had a similar incidence on my way to the supermarket. As I was walking prepared to cross the exit of the parking lot, a car was driving towards the exit. I could see that the driver was looking to the left where the immediate car traffic was coming from but not to the right where I, the pedestrian, happened to be. The car proceeded to the exit almost running over me. As it stopped, I banged my left arm on the car to alert the driver about my presence. Again, my watch tapped me on my wrist displaying: “It looks like you have taken a hard fall”.
The Human Body is a System (Not a Point, Generally)
This has made me think... The watch has a sensor basically occupying a point in space. The body, on the other hand, is a system that occupies more than one point in space. In spite of that, some body parameters like heart rate could be determined by measuring it at one point on the body. However, when one would like to detect a fall, one must make sure that the whole body changed height suddenly. This is not possible with certainty when only one sensor is attached to a point on the body (e.g., the left arm). More than one sensor - a few at least - distributed over the body are needed. In other words, more than one thing needs to be considered... Here, a thing is not just a sensor (like in the “Internet of Things”) but also things like the situation, geometry, and other facts of life.
An Array of Sensors Could Have Interrelated Components
Not only I have sensors on my body, I also have some cameras around my house. When a squirrel passes by, for example, I get a warning once the first camera detects it. Then, a few seconds later, I typically get a similar warning from the other camera. In this case, the squirrel could be considered, for the concept of detection, as a single point in space. But the camera array here is a system. It would be useful if the various cameras were able to compare notes with each other and determine that it is one squirrel (and not two) and send only one warning.
Other Things Beyond “Things”
In addition, it would be advantageous if the camera system would recognize things like objects or events that are really important to the owner, e.g., unknown humans walking by the house, not family members, squirrels or branches moving in the wind... This means that the Internet of Things is not just connecting objects to the internet but also considering other things important for systems and for people’s lives.
Smart and Not So Smart!
The frequent lack of concern to the users or to the intricacy of the system on hand goes beyond the internet-connected cameras or the Internet-connected watch. For example, in one of the previous consumer technology gatherings, I was exploring a so-called smart kitchen. The counter table top was sensitive to weight and when it senses that one has placed a kettle or a pot with content, it started to heat the location where the weight was sensed. When I asked if, after the heating operation is finished and the kettle or the pot is removed, will the counter make the hot location visible? I was told no. So, how would you know where is the hot part of the surface so that you and your family will not get, for example, burning injuries once you and they touch it? This is an invitation to an accident for adults and children alike. For this, we could use another “S” word: shortsighted, simpleminded or somewhat stupid!
Considering the Needs of People & Communities and Common Sense
This lack of knowledge and/or concern of how people tend to conduct their lives and how communities work (and the lack of common sense) is not just limited to the kitchen. It could also include buildings, and even cities. The use of the word smart could be sometimes pretentious. How many people do you know, for example (present company excluded), who have a brain but are not smart? Placing of a sensor does not make the object automatically smart! Similarly, connecting “things” does not automatically make the “things” smart.
This could remind us of a situation happened in the 1950s and the 1960s when urban planners were trying to design city environments composed of large areas with tall buildings sparingly distributed in a park-like environment. They thus preached to destroy older neighborhoods that were composed of buildings of a few stories high with a mix of residential and commercial entities. The famous Jane Jacobs who lived in the East Village in New York City at that time understood what makes a city livable and functional and wrote the now famous book, “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” (1961). She asserted that urban renewal practitioners did not respect the needs of city dwellers. Now, it is widely accepted that she was right.
Before designing a human environment that relies on technology, it is important to first understand how people use it or would like to use it before installing the technology. It is necessary to understand and consider all things - sensors, habits, and humans and community expectations.
Technology is not above all! People and their needs and common sense are!
- Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961) New York: Random House. ISBN 0-679-60047-7
- Anthony Flint, Wrestling with Moses: How Jane Jacobs Took On New York's Master Builder and Transformed the American City (2011) Random House Trade Paperbacks.
- Nahum Gershon, "The Internet of Nothing and The Internet of Things”, IEEE Internet of Things, March 2018: https://goo.gl/SJVTDd
- Nahum Gershon, "Wearables, Humans, and Things as a Single Ecosystem!”, IEEE Internet of Things, November 2015: https://goo.gl/fA8SpZ
- Nahum Gershon, "The Internet of Things (Everything!) and Health”, The IEEE Life Sciences eNewsletter, February 2016: https://goo.gl/41rYsh
Nahum Gershon focuses on social media, the Internet of Things, strategic planning, visualization, combining creative expressions with technology and real-time information delivery, presentation & interaction (including storytelling) in mobile, wearable as well as traditional devices including how they could improve both organizational environments and our personal lives. He like to play with ideas, words, and real devices. Nahum Gershon has served in many capacities at the IEEE over the years, in schmooz.org, and is a Senior Principal Scientist at the MITRE Corporation. Nahum is a well-known community organizer, mentor, and communicator and is quite socially oriented. He has a significant international & multicultural background (citizen of the world, speaking a number of languages) and is right and left brain enabled. He enjoys life!
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