Can a thing take better decisions than man?
In the future our everyday „things“ are going to to know so much about us, caused by the Internet of Things, that it could and will make decisions. But how would you react if it decides against his will and without you knowing about it? I say man will not put up with for long time!
What is the problem?
Basically this vision of the Internet of Things sounds like a dream: Your laundry is always is always washed and on the line, every time you walk to the kitchen there is immediately exactly the food you are looking for, your flat is cleaning completely itself and even your calendar created fully automatically.
One might think this would be a perfekt life, if the chores are done for you. But not only our tasks, but also our decisions will be made for us. We are not going to be asked what must be done to what time. It will just happens, sometimes against our will. It is as if your partner tidies up your room and you can’t find your own stuff afterwards.
Is it possible, that the computer will take better decisions then humankind?
What could happen?
A fitting example is shown in the Simpsons episode „You only move twice“. In this episode Homer gets a job at Globex and the Simpson family moves to Cypress Creek. In their new home every chore is done by machines, so that Marge does not know what to do with her time. The result: she is depressed, extremely bored and starts to drink a lot of wine.
Without its own decisions and the ability to do something man is gradually demotivated to do anything. The Sense of achievements, like taking own decisions and got a good feeling with it, is missing. And the whole thing also attacks our creativity. We do not have to worry about anything and have to consider nothing. This causes that we find it hard have a creative flying, because we barely expand our horizon. Is this also a task of the computer in the future?
The more decisions are taken from us and less we have to think for ourselves, the more we are becoming unable in it. There is an interesting development to been seen at the little island Nauru. Once it was one of the richest countries in the world. Thus the phosphate mining people were so rich for several years, that they had nothing to worry about. For all tasks they had a servant they paid and they did not spare a thought about their future. Well this time is over now. The economy is weak and the people forgot how to act and think independently. Especially the generation who grew up during the economically strong time has trouble to live independently. Even simple tasks had to be learned anew. For instance non-local People had to teach them the cultivation of vegetables.
Back to the Internet of Things. Its decisions will have strong economically consequences for home users. Your laundry will always be washed indeed, but it will wash it a lot more often than usual. You will have higher costs of electricity, water, washing powder, etc. Also your refrigerator will partly order items from more expensive manufacturers or more than you need. In other words: Companies will not only monitor your spending, they will influence it too.
„You get to decide. You must decide — because if you don’t, someone else will. Indecision is a bad decision.“
This is comparable to the paternalism of young children. They may not decide everything by themselves. Their parents have the final word and decide over them. Even if these decisions are mostly right for the children, they will often be dissatisfying, which is absolutely comprehensible.The reason is that they feel influenced. The freedom of choice is important, so that we can grow up to individuals. We decide against our will only with regards to social relationships, for instance when we want to curry sympathy with another person. Now both the little child and the person, who is controlled by his IoT-Things, will break out and turn against their imposed decisions, just to resume their liberty.
How should it be?
Despite all that, the internet of Things is going to taking decisions, because there are inconvenient and tasks which are a bind for man and he wont miss. But there must be a balance between decisions from man and machine. Otherwise it could evolve into something like the Hall 9000. It should be more like an IoT-Version of a „Decision Mystic 8 Ball“, which is connected with all informations and take choices according to them. Therefor it has to provide certain points:
The thing has to know us better then we know ourself! To take good decisions it needs to have all relevant issues clear and evaluated. Not just data like account balance, energy consumption, and so on should be implied, but also informations about the human being itself like interests, activities, health, etc. This data is not changing daily, it is changing every second. From this it follows that for such an flow of information a permeant surveillance is required.
The thing has to feel as I do! Just informations are insufficient. For right decisions, you require a bit of gut feeling. Taking decisions like Spock without any emotions does not lead to satisfactory results. The computer has to put itself in man’s place, know man’s relationships to friends and it has to construe feelings.
Now if the computer is able to take the right decisions for us, it still wont be enough as long as the person does not except it. The person must know why the choice of the computer is better than what he wants to do. Even better would be if the computer would lead you subconscious by priming to the right decision. Consequently the person would has the feeling to decide by themselves again. But well then you would live your live completely externally controlled without even know about it. The thing has to convince you of a choice!
This would not only be useful for home users. In politics, you could find several aspects to sensitive issues faster and think through multiple possibilities. In medicine, every patient could get more precise and appropriative treatment options. This list could carry on forever.
Because the Internet of Things will follow us on every step we will need a resting place. A place free from all things which are controlling our life, decisions and tasks. This room is used for experimentations, free leisure activities, advanced training or just for relaxing.
At the beginning these „IoT-Things“ will be rare and expensive, so people will get just those things which do chores for them. It is similar to digital cameras: Although you can shoot very good images in automatic mode by just pressing only one button, there are many people who choose the manual mode. They want to have all freedoms and want to find out every creative possibility. Because of that it is very important, that No-IoT-Things will always exist for individual man in the future. Everyone can decide for themselves what decisions he entrusts the thing with.
Even so the question remains, whether it is the best solution to give decisions off, just because they are arduous? Of course it is easier, but not better! Such services should serve as second opinions. It should be like throwing a coin. When it is fallen you know if you are happy with the result or not. After all that is what life is about: Taking wrong decisions. It is allowed, you will learn from that and stay independent!
So what is my Vision?
By the loss of freedom of choice, we would become a dominated toddler again. We would become uncreative, demotivated and unlearn thinking for oneself. Therewith the think can really make good decisions for us, it has to know us most precisely, feel with us, but has to respect our freedom as well. In the future we will indeed leave some decisions and tasks to those magical things, but we will keep the freedom of choice about the of most important decisions to ourselves.
Industry 4.0 — still a place for humans?
- Maja Storsch — Das Geheimnis kluger Entscheidungen
- Georg Orwell — Kontrolle über den Geist der anderen (1984)