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Why You Should Ignore the Internet of Things Backlash

The mainstream media has suddenly turned against the promised land of IOT-enabled future. Here's why they're wrong.

Wired magazine just launched the latest tirade about how the Internet of Things is losing luster among consumers. "It’s enough to make you wonder whether it’s time to scrap the whole idea of smart things and get back to basics. After all, having to get out of bed to turn the heat down or switch off the lights is the ultimate First World problem."

A similar critical story appeared in Forbes last week, and now there are "anti" IOT websites popping up, including one called "internet of useless things."

A lot of the criticism has to do with privacy. This part of the argument is sound. We need more transparency in the coding, control and access to how our machines communicate. But the other part of the slam circle goes after the the fickle, trendy, and head scratching silliness of many of the early IOT technologies. You'll often read the example of the "smart" oven that you can turn on while you're driving home from work.

Agreed, this is a dumb idea, and one that even in the first world has little life-enhancing value, but the trendy consumer gadgets and high-tech diapers (that's right, a diaper that senses when it needs changing—see the Huggies TweetPee) are just the inevitable flailings of a new technology that hasn't found its center.

And what is its center? Invisible, boring infrastructure.

The real potential of IOT is in a vast network of energy efficiency. You already know about the so-called Smart Grid, where utilities monitor and adjust energy production based on actual, real-time demand. But this is just the background of a much broader pallette. Soon you will see retail stores that "power down" entire sections until they sense the approach of a customer, vehicles that "sense" upcoming traffic jams and fuel waste, and offer an automatic re-route (Google Maps has a crude version of this already).

People Still Make the Rules

The IOT of the future won't operate in a vacuum. Its "rules" will be flexible by region, and will inevitably reflect local politics. So keep your ativism hat at the ready. smart_city.green_builder

This technology will soon manage our traffic signals, water use, waste streams and shopping experiences. A neighborhood in the West, for example, might have a certain available allotment of water. The IOT will balance usage, based on principles decided by local politics.

And we'll begin to think of our buildings almost as living things. An explosion of tiny sensors, already underway, will mean that behind the walls our homes have "nerves" that make adjustments to humidity, airflow, ventilation and so on, responding to (but not dictating) our behavior.

Keep it Real

Is there reason to criticize the IOT? Certainly. In the wrong products, or the wrong hands (such as Volkswagen), hidden machine programming can endanger public health, waste resources and distract us from the serious environmental problems at hand. And as with any technology, the WAY we use the IOT will determine whether it actually reduces the human impact on natural systems, or just provides a new avenue for consumption and waste, the way phantom power devices have over the past 20 years.

I'm not jumping on the anti-IOT bandwagon. I'm betting that the boring sector will win this one. Bring on the dull, but incredibly important (and money saving) pedestrian technologies of behind-the-walls sensors, variable speed heat pump fans, wireless water meters, automobile idling optimizers, and interconnected small-scale solar grids. Let them have their wireless, disposable diapers, if they must, but don't mistake it for the IOT of promise.—MP

Article on Bosch's "Sensor" Technology HERE

Wired article on the IOT