Am I a just a thing in the Internet of Things?
Recently, IBM's Michael Rowe talked to our training class about the Internet of Things (IoT). He boiled down the Internet of Things to a simple concept: thing sends data to a processing system, which then sends processed information to some person or thing. Repeat this with a few million or billion things and you have the Internet of Things. This made me wonder: am I just a thing? Or am I a living being? Does it matter to the Internet of Things how alive the thing is?
Usually when we talk of the Internet of Things, we talk of embedded processors, software operating systems, applications and network connections. We talk about applying big data analytics on all the data collected and then doing something really interesting and useful with that analyzed data. But I don't have embedded processors in my body, nor software, nor network connections, so am I an IoT thing?
Maybe my father is a thing. There is an embedded processor in his body in his pacemaker. It sends out signals to a bedside monitor that collects data from his pacemaker each day and phones his doctor if there are abnormal events. Is my dad a thing? His pacemaker is embedded inside his body. I don't have any processors in my body. But I always have my cell phone on my hip. Does it matter that this processor is not inside my body, but attached on the outside?
My cell phone is actually more invasive of my privacy than an embedded pacemaker. The cell phone has location awareness turned on, making my whereabouts trackable by apps like Life360 or by the wireless network providers themselves (and hence police with the appropriate warrants). Conversely, my dad's pacemaker has no location awareness and only broadcasts over a small range to a specialized medical device that he has direct control over. My cell phone is effectively connected to the network of things constantly, but my dad's pacemaker is only connected to the network sporadically when there is an issue. How does frequency of connection to the network affect my sense of being a thing?
I think I like the concept of my being a thing. It suits my inner geek. There is a certain sense of symmetry with the universe of which we are all a part. But then again, do I want to be thought of as no more than a piece of sensor data that is just another signal in the billions and billions of data on the IoT? I'm sure marketers think of me as more important than a sticky valve in my car. But the car mechanic is more interested in the sticky valve data than which store I'm passing by right now. It's all about the context.
My conclusion: I'm going to choose to be a thing sometimes, and not a thing other times. Sometimes, I'll turn off my cell phone, get a good printed book and sit by a lake reading. Perhaps I'll read "The Cat in the Hat" by Dr Seuss to my grandson and I'll act out the parts of Thing One and Thing Two. Other times, I'll leave my cell phone on and wait for some tweets from friends and people I follow. It'll be my choice though.
The IoT will just have to get used to me coming and going until I do need an embedded processor in my body. How about you? Does being thought of as a thing bother you?