“The InDev Incident”

The early 21st century saw an electronic gold rush of astonishing proportions: the headlong and furious race to connect everything to the internet. The whole thing happened so quickly, with so little criticism, that even now, we don’t really understand the scale of what happened or its implications.

The internet delivered the greatest revolution in human history. By the end of the 2020s, it will have outdistanced practically every other innovation in affecting our daily lives. In the worlds of one (not so disinterested) observer, “the internet and software is going to transform every aspect of human life: our medical care, our food, our health, our entertainment, our very bodies. Nothing will ever be the same again. It’s literally going to eat the planet.”

But, the internet of things revolution is different in three main ways from the biotechnology and genetic engineering revolution that came before it, well documented as “The InGen Incident.”

First: it’s broad-based. Work on the internet of things is happening in thousands of labs and startups and garages across America. Hundreds of corporations are spending billions of dollars on internet of things technology.

Second? Much of the research and product development going on is throughtless of frivolous. Internet-connected toasters. Fans. Safes. Shoes. Mirrors that will only recognize you if you smile. Scent diffusers. Luggage. These may seem like a joke, but they are not. The fact that effort is being expended to bring internet connectivity to industries traditionally subject to the vagaries of fashion, cosmetics and leisure, only heightens concern about the whimsical use of this powerful new technology.

Lastly, the work is uncontrolled. Like the internet, and thanks to the FCC’s recent moves, no-one supervises internet connected devices. No federal law regulates them. There is no cohesive government policy, in America or anywhere else in the world — and only Europe is making any headway.

But most disturbing of all is the fact that there are hardly any watchdogs found amongst the designers and engineers themselves. It’s remarkable that nearly every engineer and developer working in the field of the Internet of Things is also engaged in its commerced.

In the commercial climate that developed in the decades following the inception of the internet, it’s probably inevitable that a company as ambitious as Internet Devices, Inc., of Palo Alto, would arise. It’s equally unsurprising that the crisis it created would go unreported. After all, InDev’s research — like Apple’s, Google’s, Facebook’s and Microsoft’s was conducted in secret. The actual InDev Incident occurred in the most remote region of Central America — and far fewer than twenty people were there to witness it. Of those, only a handful survived.

And now, at the end, when InDev filed for Chapter 11 in San Francisco, the proceedings drew little attention. Hardly any court documents were made public, since the creditors — Japanese investment consortia like Softbank and other usual suspects — tried hard to shun publicity. To avoid unnecessary disclosure, the lawyers acting for InDev also represented the Japanese invetors. And, of course: the rather unusual petition of the vice consul of Costa Rica was heard behind closed doors. So it’s not a surprise that, within a month, the problems of InDev were quietly and amicably settled.

To the settlement, the parties involved signed a non-disclosure agreement. None will speak about what happened. But many of the other, principal figures of the InDev incident didn’t sign — and now, with the existence of a cache of bodycam footage and a distribution deal with Twitch, it’s time to discuss the remarkable events leading up to those final two days in August 2019, on a remote island off the west coast of Costa Rica.