What is at stake?
I am very honoured to be here today and discuss with you the important and maybe decisive challenges to lay ahead. We all have a role to play. The agency is here and it is strong.
Start-ups and very young companies such as Apple, Facebook, Google are piggybacking on old structures and they are rapidly getting more powerful by the day. Yet we too can understand what is going on, what the new power of tomorrow looks like and where the real fight is.
The real fight is between a view of man and mankind and whoever wins will rule for a long time, maybe even so long that other stories and other views on what life is and why it is worth living will only be seen as folklore or fairy tales. The fight is no longer on a battlefield, nor is it economic in the old view, no, it is about who understands best where the agency lies in a space of flows.
What is that fight? I would say it is a fight for the soul of man and the soul of how humans organize in society. At the moment the Internet of Things is fuelled by an a-moral efficiency logic based on Silicon Valley profit motives and technology push. It does not have to be that way. It can be different and that is what I want to discuss with you today.
It is here to stay though, there is no way around it. It is an accumulation of all engineering decisions that were took from the history of human tooling. In the previous century we have understood it as cybernetics, pervasive computing, ubicomp, ambient intelligence, things that think, intelligent information interfaces and the iteration that is thus not new but simply the term that Kevin Ashton coined in 1999 ‘The Internet of Things’ is the one which is acceptable to the popular press.
Terms are important. GE is pushing Industrial Internet, Cisco is pushing IoE, and these terms should be avoided as they are pure marketing for particular US firms that are lobbying everywhere. The German industry is looking at IoT from a position of gaining the upperhand in smart manufacturing and is calling it Industry 4.0. Is it a coincidence that German Chancellor Angela Merkel has a doctorate in physical chemistry and that there is a strong convergence between political support and industrial coherence on future scenarios? I think not.
As we know the Internet started as a military system designed to withstand an all attack. It created a federation of testbeds and an open line between them. That open line later was build into TCP/IP. That was a design decision, not a necessity. It remained an academic and coding culture untl Tim Berners Lee did something totally unexpected. He did not patent the web, he open sourced html. That was an act of huge proportions.
As a former member of the EU Internet of Things Expert Group and current Coordinator of the Activity Chain Societal (AC8) of the IERC, the European Research Cluster on Internet of Things, I’m proud to say that Europe has invested a significant amount of money and time into building a coherent R&D programme and as Stakeholder Coordinator to IoT-A, the largest Integrated Project (18 mil) that has build a Architectural Reference Framework (ARM) and current Community Manager of Sociotal.eu aiming to build citizen-centric services in the two pilot cities, ‘Smart’ Santander and Novi Sad I think I have gained a good overview on which to build the arguments I want to put forward to you today.
These are also based on a long-term friendship with Russian friends and experts from World Public Forum and the Institute of Philosophy Russian Academy of Sciences, after I set up Council, the thinktank for IoT (theinternetofthings.eu) in 2009.
One of these experts urged me to read Stalker from Tarkovsky, no doubt with the aim to make me realize how difficult it is to change something even if you know the full truth, the path to attain it and where to find proof to show others that the path is there.
What is the Internet of Things?
The Internet of Things is the seamless flow between the BAN (Body Area Network), LAN (Home Area Network), WAN (Wide Area Network), and VWAN (Very Wide Area Network). An enduser will pay for and to whoever links up the data coming from his body (ehealth), home (energy efficiency and ipv6 washing machines washing according to energy management of the street), telematics/mobility (connected car, self-driving cars, electric vehicles), and the city as a set of services (printing official documents in various locations).
This is what Google is doing: Google Glasses and Smart Contact Lense, Google Powermeter and NEST, Google Car and Google.org sponsoring open data programs in cities. In a recent email discussion I had with Vint Cerf on IoT he referred me to an article on Knowbots that he had written with Bob Kahn in 1988: “Research will also be undertaken to develop a Knowbot which understands organizational structure and documents associated with it.”
That is a definition of Google itself and it shows that these type of companies will be the new form of organization of society. Democracy as we know it everywhere is irrelevant and explaining these shifts to politicians and most civil servants is a waste of time. The last Chinese government had out of 11 top politicians 9 engineers. That is the same ratio as Google, 90% engineers.
Are these the new engineers of the soul, in a literally true sense? Then we need a new pact between the writers (the liriki) and the builders (the fiziki). In our reality this means we need a new pact between the app builders and the platforms they are building on.
The Internet of Things has two main roots: logistics and the internet. The barcode is from 1974, ideas about RFID replacing the barcode stem from 1999 when MIT brings it under the penny cost. But in the nineties database storage is still very expensive and the very idea of an Internet of Things is impossible because storing even very temporary ‘hits’ in xml files is expensive.
Around 2000 a shift happens as databases storage becomes cheaper and is now so cheap that no startup sees it as a serious cost. We can assume that barcodes, QR codes, Ucodes, RFID and Near Field Communication will all remain in an ecology of identifiers more playing a role in the intelligence at the edges, like in NFC devices that are not online on the time but make contact with a server every hour or less.
The Internet was never designed for personal use, not for the amount of traffic it is running today. Ipv6 and 6Lowpan will be in any device with a little bit of software, thus bringing us IP in toothbrushes, coffee-machines and small house robots and drones (flying routers). This will fuel the web of things, easy toolkits for web developers to start programming objects as easily as websites. According to Walter Colitti: 6LoWPAN brings IPv6 in the IoT and CoAP brings the Web in the IoT.
These two trajectories; individuating objects because of demand from logistics and bringing more and more data-units (first websites, now also objects that can be described as a data-unit) into networks of networks (intranets and internet), accelerate each other and that is the reason why these developments are going so fast now. They will not slow down.
Can they be steered?
I believe they can. I also believe they should. Notions about what is right or wrong, acceptable or not, what is style, what is honour, what is respect, what is service , what is love, what is living a good life - are dynamic notions that should be negotiated with and by as many stakeholders in a society. Every local sphere of influence should have a period of time in which to decide what the best possible transparency is between data and information, information and knowledge and knowledge and scenarios.
Internet of Things cannot be pushed by only one world view. There should be competing worldviews that can strongly disagree. There should be dialogue between them. Dialogue is the mlddle-ware between the competing systems.
The agency in this entire process is on device level. When Steve Jobs returned to Apple he closed down the Foresight Group saying “Research should be done in the crucible of development.” My good acquaintance Steve Cisler who worked there felt quite shaken but soon agreed. Then Apple build the synergy between the phone, the preferred partners and Telco platforms and the appstore.
I believe that that is the key to steering the IoT. By hardcoding Identity Management – the passport - in an IoT device each sphere can choose its own clean slate approach to security and safety trade off’s (that are always coupled with business models, as we can see with the Mifare card that is totally open but still widely used). Such a device acts as a controller and can assign objects to it (for example your car or washing machine…).
The device talks to only one set of platforms build on the same architectural principles. It can be IP based or it can be thought out from new architectures.
In the service store citizens manage their taxes, their health, education, energy….
Ideally it is build not on territorial boundaries but in terms of a BRIC philiosophy of what kind of pace we want as a society moving towards the digital transition.
Ideally it is also open source so that communities of developers can refine it every day.
This plan brings the agency back on platform level and allows for a strong openness on the level of content and applications that will make the younger generations enthousiastic as they see they have a chance to build new search engines, new social networks, new educational paradigms, new applications we can not even foresee.
This plan also gives the new Research Agenda for the coming 5 to 10 years a strong grounding in real infrastructure, real use of new smart materials and offers a strong foundation to embed the latest insights in nano and bio technology directly into consumer applications, home environments, food and agriculture, automotive, smart cities as well into a smart energy grid.
A successful IoT means the best possible feedback on our physical and mental health, the best possible deals based on real time monitoring for resource allocation, the best possible decision making based on real time data and information from open sources and the best possible alignments of my local providers with the global potential of wider communities.
 THE DIGITAL LIBRARY PROJECT VOLUME 1: The World of Knowbots (DRAFT) AN OPEN ARCHITECTURE FOR A DIGITAL LIBRARY SYSTEM AND A PLAN FOR ITS DEVELOPMENT
Robert E. Kahn and Vinton G. Cerf Corporation for National Research Initiatives March 1988 ©Corp. for National Research Initiatives, 1988