The Internet of Snarky Things

imageOne of the popular tech-trends today is The Internet of Things or IoT, because what’s a bit of popular culture without a quirky looking acronym. The concept, which apparently has been around for longer than I knew, is one that imagines everything talking to everything else. Well, I think the IoT folks aren’t really imagining things talking to each other; they are looking forward to things being connected so that people and advanced computers acting on behalf of people could manage those things. I’m further guessing that those folks don’t get out of the lab very often. According to Wikipedia (what, you thought I was going to do serious research on this?)

“If all objects and people in daily life were equipped with identifiers, they could be managed and inventoried by computers… Equipping all objects in the world with minuscule identifying devices or machine-readable identifiers could transform daily life.”

Really? I see the potential for this to not end well.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for little bits of technology that will improve the safety of air travel or reduce highway congestion but I’m not so sure about things like billboards that change their message when they realize that I am looking at them. That sounds a bit too much like that awkward moment when you sense a change in the conversation that you just joined at a party. I picture a billboard advertising a fancy restaurant swiftly changing to an ad for Wendy’s when it sees me approaching.

My friend Laurence Hart wrote a nice blog postimage about cars and the Internet of Things. Laurence is a pretty smart tech-guy, and I get where he’s heading, but I see a darker side as being possible. What happens when everything is connected to everything else and the people who programed the life-transforming software start including value judgments? Trust me; once you involve humans, you open the door for value judgments. Say I drive my Jeep into a parking garage. What’s to keep the control mechanisms from closing various gates so that I’m directed to the outside rows, the ones that are somewhat exposed to the weather? While this happens to me, the gates open for the guy behind me (in the BMW) to allow him access to the better protected inside slots.

You might think that I’m worrying for nothing but remember, the judgmental behavior I’m talking about will be programmed by well-meaning Millennials who, despite having had access to cable with hundreds of TV shows, spent most of their time growing up watching Beverly Hills, 90210 and  Buffy the Vampire Slayer. So, when I walk into a store, a restaurant, a car dealer or perhaps even a church, something is going to be taking inventory.

Bogey at 10 o’clock. He’s wearing relaxed fit jeans, a Pittsburgh Pirates tee shirt (not Official MLB) and he bought those shoes at Sears (we don’t even carry information on that “brand”). Oh, this gets better. That’s a Timex watch on his wrist and it actually only. Tells. The. Time. I know, and our outside sensors tell us he drove up in a low-end Jeep. He’s carrying an iPhone, the one with the small screen and apparently he listens to “classic” rock, flies on Southwest airlines and, check this out, he gets his weather forecast from NOAA. Oh my God, this guy went to college in West Virginia!

When I check into a hotel with that composite picture, imagedo I get a room with a view of the ocean or one with a view of the train tracks behind the hotel? Does the sign next to the water bottle change from “With our Compliments” to “$4.95”? Does the elevator bypass me in favor of the guy waiting on the 8th floor wearing an Armani suit? It might seem funny, but it could happen. Back in 1960 Rod Serling wrote an episode of the Twilight Zone called “A Thing About Machines” that portrayed a man who was taunted and tormented by the machines in his life. This was well before anyone (maybe with the exception of Rod Serling) was thinking of the Internet of Things. It wasn’t clear if the machines were acting in concert or had formed individual animosity toward Mr. Finchley but their actions represented a clear and present danger.

In addition to all of the above, think about the fact that the Internet of Things will likely be powered by Java and Android devices. Recent articles put these two platforms at the red end of the dangerous scale, vulnerable to attack by hackers and ne’re-do-wells like these guys. Do you really want the car dealer to know (in advance) how much money you make and how much money you have saved? Do you want the guy on the street behind you to know for certain that you’re wearing a Rolex watch? Do you want your luggage spouting an inventory of its contents to every person it encounters?

The Internet of Things might be a good thing. It might lead to safer travel, minimal disruptions, shorter lines and fewer disappointments. The IoT might drift into an annoying state where your refrigerator mocks you for chilling red wine or taking out the jar of mayonnaise along with the fixings for a ham sandwich. Maybe when we hit that phase, people will collectively push back and stop the evolution before it becomes a full-blown Internet of Snarky Thing – IoST, of course.

29 thoughts on “The Internet of Snarky Things

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  1. The top view is from the room we got at our Annual Meeting the first time I took my daughter with me. Other years, my view was more like the lower hotel photo. Fortunately I love trains. The center shot is how I keep track of where I am parked. It was an outside row, but there wasn’t any snow in the forecast.

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    1. That’s a great article Nick (I am always amazed at the things you find). Amazon is opening a new distribution center here. They’ve bargained for great tax breaks, but I haven’t seen anything about how many jobs this will create. My guess is that most of them will be while they are building the facility. Thanks for stopping by and for your comment.

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  2. Dan, I laughed at this and then I worried! Where is it all going? But at the moment the control still rests with the people – we can all switch off, or switch off some things … heaven help us when that option has passed. I frequently find myself thinking about The Borg! I only hope resistance is never futile. For now I am internet nut, I enjoy being connected to people all around the world. When it starts to feel more like control then I’ll be gone – assuming of course I’ll recognise the control … IoST reads remarkably like lost …

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      1. Ha! Spent the morning looking for it, (the off switch) instead of working – just kidding. But actually when I started to count the number of gadgets in my household that are connected to the internet it got a bit scary. And that’s not counting the ones with microchips supposedly to make them run more efficiently. And then there’s the small matter of the computer that once was a car engine!

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  3. I liked this even before you got to the Twilight Zone reference, Dan. Nice use of humor to make a serious point! Serling, I’m sure, would be proud.

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  4. Hi Dan,

    I’m all in with Jill … I was cracking up because you’re so darn funny, but then I thought, what if?

    If this became life as we know it, I don’t know if I’d ever leave my house or proudly take my place next to you wearing the shoes I bought at Sears. Hee!

    This got me thinking about funerals. Would the people who really didn’t care for the deceased but felt they had to make a showing for whatever the reason, be auto-shuffled into a certain seating area?

    You composed a great read out of this one concept; especially funny was the Jeep and the BMW.

    Now I’ll be thinking about this all evening.

    Good stuff!

    ~Cathy~

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  5. You write with your signature sense of humor about a topic than can be frightening. I hope for a collective wake up call when we get there. Thank you for sharing true facts with a dash of dystopia.

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    1. Thank you so much. Sometimes, when I look at these issues, I get sad because you can study them to death, but you really can’t control their course. I think all we have left, individually is humor. As a group, maybe we can change something at some point. Thanks again!

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    1. Thanks. I think as long as we are comfortable with who we are, the machines can get over on us. Of course it will be like junior high school all over again, but… Thanks again for stopping by and commenting.

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    1. You and I might be the only two people keeping the industry alive. I still think people will push back, but with younger folks, it might be like the frog in the water deal – they won’t know they are being cooked until they’re done. I guess if you were getting creeped out, I’m not helping. Thanks for the comment. Now, go mess with your fridge.

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  6. You make a great point. I was just at the Salesforce1 World Tour in Chicago (they had Buddy Guy play 2 wonderful songs – I was the one dancing in the aisles – no, luckily for my workmates that was just in my head) and you will have to write new one. It is now the Internet of Customers.

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  7. Thanks for stopping by Beth and for leaving a comment. I can’t touch the Internet of customers, I might offend somebody. I think a tech conference that could get people dancing in the aisles would be a good thing – go for it :)

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  8. Wow, your thoughts on IoT are a bit scary! I fear it will go that way too; class selection.

    I don’t have too much hooked up to the internet and I am planning to keep it that way for as long as possible. I fear if we get to a point of everything being connected and there is an Off switch and you use it you’ll lose insurance, access to your money, and who knows what other punishment the powers at be will impose to make you/me/everyone conform?

    Scary stuff!

    I still wear an analog watch. All it does it tell time. :)

    Liked by 1 person

  9. See, Dan, this was four years ago, and despite being online all the time I still haven’t heard of the Internet of Things (what a name!), even though it’s obviously here already. You were right, they know everything, and it’s on us to start tricking them. Those who have energy to spare… I give up without the fight. Once they have me figured out, I’ll ask them nicely to share the knowledge with me.

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