Digital Society
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Digital Society

The Internet of Things

How does the Internet of Things fit within the framework of previous Industrial Revolutions, and where is it today?

Photo of fibre-optic cables by John Adams on Unsplash

Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Back to the future
  3. What is the Internet of Things (IoT)?
  4. Disruptive technologies
  5. People Data Machines
  6. The Dystopians and the Utopians
  7. Summary

1. Introduction

Dave Hirst introduces this topic on the Internet of Things. A full transcript can be found here. mp3 version.

We are now more technologically connected than ever before, between our friends, our working environment and the machines that operate beside us.

In this topic you will:-

  • Look at the Internet of Things (IoT), how it fits within the framework of previous Industrial Revolutions and where we are now in the present day.
  • Look critically at your relationship with technology and the speed at which the machines around us are adapting and reacting to our changing requirements.
  • Think and reflect on the relationship that you have with technology and how this could evolve in the future.

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2. Back to the future

In 1962, seven years before Scooby Doo, the Hanna-Barbera animation studio produced a sitcom called The Jetsons. Unlike their show The Flintstones which was set in the Stone Age, The Jetsons imagined what life might be like 100 years into the future.

But just how accurate was it?

Watch the video below then ask yourself if any of it has come true today.

Closed captions are available on this video

✅ Poll

Read the following prompt then vote below. All responses are anonymous.

Thinking about the present day, are you positive about the development of technology in your life?

Poll: Thinking about the present day, are you positive about the development of technology in your life? Options: Yes / No / Maybe / Unsure. If you can’t access the poll please add a response to this post.

3. What is the Internet of Things (IoT)?

There are many definitions of the IoT, from a TechTarget version….

“The internet of things, or IoT, is a system of interrelated computing devices, mechanical and digital machines, objects, animals or people that are provided with unique identifiers (UIDs) and the ability to transfer data over a network without requiring human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction.

A thing in the internet of things can be a person with a heart monitor implant, a farm animal with a biochip transponder, an automobile that has built-in sensors to alert the driver when tire pressure is low or any other natural or man-made object that can be assigned an Internet Protocol (IP) address and is able to transfer data over a network TechTarget.

…to a Techopedia version

“The IoT is significant because an object that can represent itself digitally becomes something greater than the object by itself. No longer does the object relate just to its user, but it is now connected to surrounding objects and database data. When many objects act in unison, they are known as having “ambient intelligence.”

Watch this video [closed captions available in English] to see one explanation of how the IoT works.

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4. Disruptive technologies

Industry 4.0 -“Christoph Roser at AllAboutLean.com

Before we look at the IoT in detail it will be useful to place it within its historical context.

What happened in our past that created the building blocks for the Internet and now the IoT? How did it happen?

Industrial Revolution 1760–1840

Bridgewater foundary An image of the Bridgewater Foundry, alongside the Bridgewater Canal and the Liverpool to Manchester railway line at Patricroft 1839 — Public Domain image

Where we are now can be traced back to the start of the Industrial Revolution in the late 1700s in Manchester. Traditional manual labour was rapidly rendered obsolete through a number of key inventions. The automation of the textile manufacturing process started off with the creation of the Spinning Jenny, an automated spinning machine and the development of steam technology such as the Rocket Locomotive ensured that goods could be moved a lot quicker. Manufacturing moved from single households where a family controlled the weaving process to the factory where larger machines could be operated by one person. As disruptive pieces of technology there would be no turning back; the factories were about to arrive.

Internet revolution 1940–2010

Moving on from the the start of the Industrial Revolution you might think that the development of the Internet is a very recent event but you would need to go back to the early 1940s to see the beginnings of the Internet.

Illustration of a memex machine. (Image from resumbrae.com)

Ladies and gentlemen, we present the Memex!

Proposed as a concept by Vannevar Bush, and first published in 1945, the Memex (from “memory extender”) was Bush’s idea of a hypertext system, a sort of mechanised file and library.

“ A Memex is a device in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility. It is an enlarged intimate supplement to his memory.

It consists of a desk, and while it can presumably be operated from a distance, it is primarily the piece of furniture at which he works. On the top are slanting translucent screens, on which material can be projected for convenient reading. There is a keyboard, and sets of buttons and levers. Otherwise it looks like an ordinary desk.” Dr Vannevar Bush, “As we may think”, The Atlantic, July 1945.

You can read more about Memex here.

Although a Memex was just a concept and was never actually made, in a reflection of society at the time its creator imagined it would only be used by “men”. Bush’s plans for his ‘memory extender’ demonstrate the start of the process that we are living through now, the immediate access to information at our fingertips.

💬 Contribute

Read the following prompt then add your contribution in the box below. Responses from the same person are the same colour. All comments are anonymous.

What are your thoughts on the Memex? Which pieces of 2021 technology do you think it’s closest to, and why?

If you can’t access the comment box, please write a response to this post instead.

ARPNET — Advanced Research Projects Agency Network

Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Moving on from Memex in the 1940s the first official internet ‘message’ was sent from UCLA to Stanford Research Institute at 10:30 pm PST on 29 October 1969. This was sent via a network which became known as ARPNET.

The text of the first message was supposed to be “login” but it crashed the system and could only send “lo” !

The first stable ARPNET system was finalised on 21st November 1969 and was the forerunner of the Internet that we know today.

Unlike the multifunctional Internet we have today, the goal of ARPNET was clearly of a military nature. The definition used at the time says the role of ARPNET is…

“to exploit new computer technologies to meet the needs of military command and control against nuclear threats, achieve survivable control of US nuclear forces, and improve military tactical and management decision making”

In essence research computing was spread out across military and educational establishments, and ARPNET was able to bring these locations together virtually. Many people aren’t aware that the Internet’s origins were in the military. How do you feel about that?

What will the future hold?

Humans have been on a journey of discovery from the Industrial Revolution (often referred to as Industry 1.0), to mass production (Industry 2.0) to the Internet Revolution (Industry 3.0) we see around us in 2021. But what’s the next big seismic shift? Some people argue that Industry 4.0 will be underpinned by the Internet of Things and the collision of three variables, people, data and machines. Let’s take a look at this combination of variables in the next section.

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5. People Data Machines

There are a 7.9 billion people on the planet and they are creating “Over 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every single day, and it’s only going to grow from there.”

The picture below demonstrates a 2020 breakdown of the data we are generating every minute on the multiple platforms that we use!

Data Never Sleeps 8.00 — used with permission from Domo.

In combination with the increasing population and the data being creating is the development, miniaturisation and cheapness of the sensors which are placed in all the machines that we and industry use. At a very basic level, this is the Internet of Things.

💬 Contribute

Read the following prompt then add your contribution in the box below. Responses from the same person are the same colour. All comments are anonymous.

Read the contributions in the comment stream below then add your own example of an Internet-connected device or sensor, a brief explanation about it, and what questions it might raise about the collection and use of data.

If you can’t access the comment box, please write a response to this post instead.

ASCI Supercomputer

ASCI -Sandia National Laboratories, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

ASCI was a powerful supercomputer built in 1996 by the US Government at the Sandia National Laboratories. It cost $55 million, covered 1,600 sq feet and it was the first computer to break the one teraflop speed barrier, that’s one million million operations per second!

It was also the first supercomputer to be built from commercially available CPUs (Pentium Pros, Pentium II Xeons). The power it used on an hourly basis, 800 kilowatt per hour, would have powered over 800 homes.

Why is this important and why is interesting?

It highlights how expensive it was in 1996 to build a 1 teraflop supercomputer. In comparison to the ASCI, 17 years later in 2013 the cheaper, faster, and smaller PlayStation 4 could be found underneath TV sets around the world as evidence that the pace of change in recent years has been exceptional.

The evolution of the PlayStation console

I’ve already mentioned the PS4, so it’s only natural as an avid gamer I’d use the PlayStation as an example of the speed of technological change!

Photo by Taylor R on Unsplash

In 2005 the PS3 had a power of 228 Gflops, cost $500 and sold 64 million units. 8 years later in 2013 the PS4 could reach speeds up to 1.8 teraflops, was cheaper at $399 and sold over 73.6 million units.

In 2020 the PS5 was launched and it has a theoretical potential of 10 teraFLOPS.

The PlayStation has certainly come a long way in a relatively short period of time but are you surprised that a consumer gaming console can now outperform the mathematical power of a 90s supercomputer?

The PS5 launched at the end of 2020 but what about the PS6, or the PS10? How much more advanced will they be compared with the ‘stone-age’ PS1 or this year’s PS5?

Google Car (Lidar)

Another example of the reduction in cost and miniaturisation of technology can be seen in the LIDAR system used in autonomous car design. In 17 years it has dropped in price from 35 million dollars to 100 dollars!

The LIDAR system is now used by car manufacturers, agriculture, aerospace and has been included in the latest Apple phone. With the reduction in cost the technology becomes more pervasive in our everyday lives.

So what are machines using the sensors for ?

By CSIRO, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35457732

Machines are using sensors to communicate with each other and to communicate with us.

If we think about how the sensors can be beneficial to us then we only have to see how many billions of devices they are embedded into. They are in all the objects you own that are connected to the network, they monitor your heart rate on your run, check your sleep patterns (are you getting enough REM sleep?), remotely turn your lights on, check your fridge has any milk left or let you turn the heating up when you are on the way home. These are examples that we can see value in.

There are also examples of the IoT having a more sinister and less beneficial aspect.

There are also some very strange examples as well…..

The e-Puck robot

e-Puck robot — Public domain — Wikimedia commons

The e-puck robot is a recent example of an IoT product with a range of sensors included in its design. Some of the things it can do are “seeing”, “hearing”, “speaking” both to us and other machines”, “moving” and also detect if its going to fall over.

It is used in many educational and research environments and “offers a series of robot programming challenges that address various topics across a wide range of difficulty levels, from middle school to PhD…users can learn programming by writing Python code to control robot behaviour. The performance achieved by users is recorded and displayed online, so that they can challenge their friends and show off their skills at robot programming on social networks” (EPL educational robot).

Technology roadmap

Technology roadmap: the Internet of Things — Wikimedia Commons Public Domain

In the technology roadmap image (above) you can see all the different industry areas that the IoT currently covers and how pervasive it is across the world.

Is there anywhere it isn’t?

With any Industrial Revolution there are many changes that take place both to the individual, their social/workplace environment and to the existing status quo. Is the Internet of Things any different to the previous disruptions such as the Industrial or the Internet Revolutions?

Robot Dave — base image by imjanuary from Pixabay

The lifecycle of these revolutions and how they effect us is a really interesting area to explore in your coursework.

A question that I think about is how will the job market change, what jobs will disappear and which new ones will be created? What does the relationship between employment and automation mean for the future? Will my job as a Teaching and Learning Librarian disappear? Will a robot be the new me?

💬 Contribute

Read the following prompt then add your contribution in the box below. Responses from the same person are the same colour. All comments are anonymous.

How do you think the potential applications of the IoT could affect your future employment?

If you can’t access the comment box, please write a response to this post instead.

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6. The Dystopians and the Utopians

In this post we have looked at how the IoT came about, what it is and some of the things it can do.

In this final activity you will be looking at the statement below and posting your thoughts on whether you think it is a good force or a bad force.

Depending on how and why it is used, the Internet of Things will either be a force for good or bad — do you agree with this statement?

Before we start the activity, let’s take this poll to see how you all feel about the IoT.

Poll

Read the following prompt then vote below. All responses are anonymous.

“Depending on how and why it is used, the Internet of Things will either be a force for good or bad.” Do you agree with this statement?

Poll: “Depending on how and why it is used, the Internet of Things will either be a force for good or bad.” Do you agree with this statement? Options: Yes / No / Unsure. If you can’t access the poll, please add a response to this post.

✍ Write a response

Step one. Post your argument

  1. On the left hand of the screen click on the speech bubble and add your response to the question. Make sure you are logged in with the Medium account you are using for the Digital Society course.
  2. Use and link to evidence in your post to back up your argument.

Here are examples of arguments against and for the IoT.

Against: I know that the Internet of Things is here to stay but I can’t help but feel that the technology that we use now is already being exploited, hacked and misused and that it will only get worse as more devices become connected. It concerns me that my data isn’t safe.

For: Yes there might be problems with the IoT but there generally is with every disruptive technology . I only think of the benefits of how it can help us and do the jobs that we don’t want to do. The IoT will be looking after our health in the years to come in a more sustainable way than currently exists.

Step two. Respond to a comment on your post or another student’s post

  1. On the left hand of the screen click on the speech bubble and either respond to a comment on your post or another students response. Make sure you are logged in with the Medium account you are using for the Digital Society course.
  2. Use and link to evidence in your post to back up your counter argument.

Against: I know that the Internet of Things is here to stay but I can’t help but feel that the technology that we currently use is already being exploited, hacked and misused and that it will only get worse as more devices become connected.

Counter argument: I can see why you are concerned about how our technology and data is being exploited and misused but there are new systems in place such as Blockchain that are starting to make progress towards creating a more secure digital environment. It might seem like our data is being hacked continually but this rarely happens to the individual, data breaches are more targeted at large corporations. In essence yes the danger is there but I feel that if we use systems like Blockchain we can mitigate against the danger and hopefully make our data more secure.

Step three — Read and reflect on the comments by other students on the topic.

  1. Have read through the comments and reflected on them has your perception of the IoT changed slightly, a lot, or just stayed the same?

Poll

Read the following prompt then vote below. All responses are anonymous.

In this critical activity has your opinion changed on whether the IoT is a force for good or bad?

Poll: In this critical activity has your opinion changed on whether the IoT is a force for good or bad? Options: Yes / No / Unsure. If you can’t access the poll, please add a response to this post.

Further reading for inspiration

IoT and Machine Learning- Changing the Future (TEDtalk). Closed captions available.

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7. Summary

We’ve looked briefly at the Industrial Revolution and the Internet Revolution, but what’s next? The Connectedness Revolution? The Information Revolution? Where will Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things take us?

The IoT blurs the boundaries between humans, technology, the Internet, data (both personal and public) and the physical world around us. Unless you’re a hermit living in a cave in the most remote part of the planet you can’t have failed to notice the speed at which technology is moving and the effect this is having on our daily lives.

Is the changing technological landscape a force for good or something to be feared? Do the advantages outweigh the dangers? Do you feel positive about the IoT, negative or somewhere in the middle?

In the present day we take it for granted that we’re able to video call our friends on the other side of the world while we’re walking down the street, but do we really need a kettle that knows to switch itself on when it senses we’re five minutes from home? Is that clever or just plain lazy?

And what of the data the kettle uses to trigger this action? Who owns it? Who has access to it? Is anyone using it without our consent? We’ll be looking at some of these questions in other Digital Society topics.

In this topic the Internet of Things you’ve been encouraged to think and reflect on the relationship that you have with technology and how this could evolve in the future. We hope we’ve given you food for thought.

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