Joel Beckerman, founder and lead composer for Man Made Music appeared on KQED San Francisco to discuss his project “How Sounds Manipulate How You Feel.” Joel talked about how hospitals, meant to be places of healing, are filled with sounds of various alarms going off and this cacophony of alarms often ends up making patients feel uncomfortable and restless. As he discussed this topic, he inadvertently gave a glimpse of what the impact of the internet of Things (IoT) might be on our lives and psyche.
The metaphor is apt for where we are going with the IoT. For those unfamiliar with the term, IoT refers to the Internet of Things; a world where everything (devices, cars, appliances, phones, buildings, stores etc) is connected to the internet often bidirectionally i.e these things can collect information from where they are and send it to a central back-end location and also act and change their behavior based on commands sent from the central back-end location.
As more and more “things” come online and start reporting what they can sense, see, hear, smell and feel, we the users will be inundated with signals. We will interpret these signals manually or designate intelligent proxies on her behalf. These proxies will process the signals and sound alarms based on their configuration. These alarms will demand our attention and force us to either act, ignore or dismiss them.
Similar to the patient in a hospital room, this barrage of alarms will surround us, confuse us and distract us. These alarms and notifications will add to the noise and clutter we already face today from emails, IMs and social communique. The alarms (as all alarms do) will end up dominating our lives and a significant portion of our time and attention will be spent in triaging and addressing them.
As with most alarms in the physical world, there will be two common outcomes of persistent interactions with IoT alarms. Either our brains will eventually tune out these alarms and we will stop paying attention to them or we will completely turn off these alarms (and the underlying sensors). As the number and types of sensors and alarms that we have to deal with grows, inevitably we will be offered better sensor/alarm management capabilities that enable us to better tune, control and optimize these alarms.
This heightened level of flexibility will lead to the danger of either too aggressive or too complaisant rules that will either over or under sense and over or under alarm. Such misconfigured or corrupt or non customized alarms will eventually lead to more noise and distractions.
The ideal vision of IoT aims to make us more productive and satisfied by highlighting what is more important at a given time or location and help us better manage our time and resources by focusing on what’s most important. However, as we get surrounded with products and services that each try to capitalize on IoT, the time it takes to manage these products and services and the alarms and notifications they generate (and how they are generated) might have the opposite effect.
As we get used to these sensors and alarms all around us which will permeate into our daily workflows, users can expect increased paranoia from this alarm addiction
Paranoia of Missing Expected Alarms
As the “things” that surround us begin to interact with us through alarms, we will begin to expect alarms that fit and signify normal workflow and patterns. When such alarms do not go off when they are expected, paranoia might set in about the implication of the missed alarm. Missed alarms could be due to malfunctions (either at the sensors, on the network that transports the signal to back end, malfunctions at the back end that processes the signals and generates the alarms, malfunctions between the network and our alarm interface or malfunctions in the alarm interface) or could be an actual event of interest. Inability to diagnose why an expected alarm did not function as expected when consumers are dependent on these alarms will cause paranoia.
The success of IoT and mass adoption will depend on building resilient ecosystems that are not only averse to such breakdowns but also self monitoring and healing to notify users when the signals and alarms are corrupted or malfunctioning.
Paranoia of Breached Privacy
For appropriate alarms to be generated by certain “things,” they will require deeper and more personal information about the user to be collected. As these “things” become more sophisticated, we can expect this information to be used to create deeper, targeted, customized and personalized behavior. The increased level of sophistication of the alarms and the ability of these devices to sense our intent and needs at a given location and time will make us paranoid about potential breaches of privacy. We will question the amount and depth of information collected, how securely it is transported to the back end, how it is used, shared, processed and stored, who has access to it and how it is disposed of.
The success of IoT and its mass adoption will depend on building an ecosystem that securely collects, transfers, processes and stores user information and data. Ensuring that usage is appropriate within guidelines of defined rules and regulation and also as expected and authorized by the user will be key. In addition, new laws and regulations will be required to rethink what privacy means and how it can be protected in the context of IoT.
Paranoia of Inaccurate Sensing
As more and more things become sensory aware and we begin to adapt and envelope our lives within the constraints of these sensors and alarms, an increased sense of paranoia will set in as we understand and begin to appreciate the severity and implications of misconfigured sensors and the consequently generated imperfect alarms. The paranoia will be fueled by the constant introduction of more advanced technologies to better sense and alarm (such as machine learning and artificial intelligence) which in turn will make the entire ecosystem less coherent and parse-able.
The success and mass adoption of IoT will depend on how well IoT vendors are able to prove and sustain high-quality levels of sensing and alarming while ensuring that any generated alarms are audit-able and can be reverse engineered to determine how and why they were generated. In addition to that, external monitoring and constant validation of the IoT ecosystem will be required to sustain tight error margins and high confidence in the generated alarms and notifications.
It remains to be seen how and by how much our brains adapt to this new world characterized by sensory overload where all everyday objects and things become intelligent in their ability to collect information, to provide us with contextual information or behave differently given what they know about us and our environments.
Dealing with this onslaught of information along with the increased paranoia will not be easy. It will require IoT vendors to come up with new ways of designing, building and regulating the entire ecosystem such that the end user can understand, manage, tune in and out signals and alarms and optimize their impact on his/her life.