IoT World: Separating Smart And Dumb Things - InformationWeek
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5/13/2015
07:06 PM
Thomas Claburn
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IoT World: Separating Smart And Dumb Things

At Internet of Things World, companies are trying to figure out what objects should get networked.
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(Image: Thomas Claburn)

(Image: Thomas Claburn)

At the beginning of his keynote speech at Internet of Things (IoT) World in San Francisco on Tuesday, Young Sohn, president and chief strategy officer of Samsung Electronics, played a video. "What if everything had a voice?" the video's narrator asked. "Plants, buildings, cars, devices, your body." My chair would ask me to stop sitting on it, I thought to myself. And the next billion dollar company would be a maker of earplugs.

"What if everything could listen …? How would the world be better? Would we be wiser?"

I didn't say what I was thinking and that was for the best. It's also an example of why not everything should have a voice.

Wireless technology, miniaturization, and cloud computing have made it so that everything can communicate. Samsung's latest effort to realize that vision came in the form of its ARTIK IoT platform.

But not everything should communicate all the time. Now that the tech industry has made it possible for everything to have a voice, thanks to tiny bits of wireless hardware, it must figure out when devices should speak, what they should say, and how to interpret their messages.

Samsung and dozens of other companies at Internet of Things World know they can make the world better by giving things a voice. They can make enterprises, organizations, and communities function more efficiently by monitoring the production and distribution of goods and services. They can improve the health of individuals by allowing insight into biological and activity data.

But wisdom doesn't necessarily follow from communication. People have been conversing with one another for millennia, but we still haven't learned how to resolve our differences and dogmas without conflict. There's no reason to assume technology will make us wiser. If sensors in the arctic send a notification that the ice has all melted, there will still be climate change deniers. There are still people who combine smoking and FitBit. In fact, the push to create self-driving cars suggests we're irredeemable, at least when it comes to driving responsibly.

Technology companies can't save us from ourselves, but they can figure out what things should have a voice, when that voice proves beneficial, and how that voice should be expressed. That's where we are with the Internet of Things at the moment. Samsung's Internet-connected refrigerator may not make sense until every product inside can communicate its freshness and supply state to trigger restocking deliveries. But even then it may be too much automation for the average consumer.

Ron Evans, who runs a development company called The Hybrid Group, the maker of the open source robotics frameworks Cylon.js, spoke with me briefly in the exhibit hall at IoT World. He considers the Internet of Things to be another term for automation, something that businesses have been implementing for decades and will continue to do in the years to come.

Automation has real value, at the right place and the right time. What follow are a few companies trying to give voice to things and to ensure those messages are welcome and meaningful.

Automation alone doesn't lead to a better world. Imagine an API for condolences, a disloyal smart car that reports every driving infraction, or insurance companies tying policy prices to the caloric content of snacks purchased by credit card.

The Internet of Things could easily become the Tyranny of Things. It's up to us to make sure it's something better.

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful ... View Full Bio

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PeterF028
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PeterF028,
User Rank: Moderator
5/27/2015 | 12:29:51 PM
Pending challenge
Bottom line: not everything needs to be connected in the IoT that we are envisioning. However, I would argue if its possible to gain insight through any data collected, even a dumb item may prove somewhat useful. Of course, the challenge in connecting SOOO many things will be that it will create noise that in many instance lacks significant benefit.  Should be fun watching this space grow. Peter Fretty, IDG blogger working on behalf of CSC
Ariella
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Ariella,
User Rank: Author
5/27/2015 | 11:55:24 AM
Re: Ugh...
<Again - I'll beat my drum here - just because we CAN put sensors on everything doesn't mean it is a good idea.> Just so you don't feel like you're playing solo, @GAProgrammer, I'll chime in with, I agree 100%
GAProgrammer
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GAProgrammer,
User Rank: Ninja
5/15/2015 | 3:37:03 PM
Ugh...
Ignoring the dogmatic beating of the climate change drum here and in the comments, most of these don't have any practical applications. The model doesn't do what you claim - it just shows that all of those things CAN be connected. My car doesn't need to connect to my irrigation system. Why does my house even need to know that my car is approaching? Are people really that lazy that they can't push a button for a garage door opener and turn on the lights when I get home (if I even need to - my family may already be there). I laugh everytime I see most of the hype for the "connected home", since most of the use cases are based on a single person living there!

However, I agree with the title of the article at least - we have to decide what is worthwhile and what we are amenable to being monitored for. The potential for abuse of this information is appalling - insurace companies jacking rates based on ACTUAL behaviors, the social engineering that governments could implement (already worse than the current transfat/sugar/smoking/texting in place) by taxing or penalizing citizens that don't comform, forcing citizens to ration electrical power because some politician sets an arbitraty limit...the list goes on. I am not saying we should be fearful of the possibilities - but we also can't be willfully ignorant of the consequences. You don't have to look any further than the US education system or the national debt to see what happens when we do things without acknowledging the conequences. 

Again - I'll beat my drum here - just because we CAN put sensors on everything doesn't mean it is a good idea.
Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
5/14/2015 | 6:15:30 PM
Re: Creating a Smart Ecosystem
The retrofitting is a big deal among consumers. Rewriting light switches and replacing outlets is too much to ask most people.
Stratustician
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Stratustician,
User Rank: Ninja
5/14/2015 | 1:50:54 PM
Creating a Smart Ecosystem
While sure, a lot of these technologies might not seem to have a ton of practical applications beyond the novelty of being able to talk to them, I love what this technology is heading towards.  One of the biggest issues of our generation is climate change, and we could definitely look to the IoT world for practical solutions that not just help us conserve energy by learning more about our day-to-day patterns, but also leverage new technology that help to reduce the overall energy usage by looking at the overall picture of how we live, rather than point products that address one or two areas (such as smart thermostats etc).  The problem right now is that a lot of retrofitting has to be done in many cases to adapt our homes and businesses to be more "smart", although it looks like we are starting to see some great solutions such as magnetic light switches that convert older electrical to support newer technology.
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