Wolf Richter: Goal of Booming ‘Internet of Things’: Monitoring, Sensing, Remote Control – Factory Workers First, You Next

Society is now created for technological, rather than human requirements. And that’s where tragedy begins.

C.V. Gheorgiu, The Twenty-Fifth Hour, 1950

I first heard about what would later be called the Internet of Things in 1991 from Michael Hawley, who happened to be providing support for my NeXT computer. Hawley was then a graduate student at MIT and favorite of Nick Negroponte. (Hawley, who had also worked at NeXT, pointed out that having him do my tech support was tantamount to having Steve Jobs on deck). He later became a professor in the MIT Media Lab

In addition to showing me the coolness of networks (like accessing files on remote computers, which was bleeding edge back then), he was also keen about discussing digital libraries and how his belt buckle would be able to talk to his refrigerator and why that would be useful. I kept quiet about my reservations about my objects having private conversations about me. In 1999, Hawley co-founded Things That Think, “a groundbreaking research program that explores the limitless ways digital media will infuse everyday objects.” The Internet of Things program draws much of its inspiration from the Things That Think initiative.

The problem with the idea of having even more devices than your smartphone and tablet gathering information for your convenience, of course, is the many ways all that data can be used against you. Matt Stoller wrote about this issue at Naked Capitalism well before the Snowden revelations raised public concern about the extent and ramifications of official and private sector data collection. From a June 2012 post:

The question of civil liberties versus privacy carries with it an entire set of tired arguments and predictable political posturing.  The debate, however, is changing radically, because the capabilities to invade and control privacy have become extremely granular, and the profit motive has now changed the traditional actor in surveillance from the state to the private corporation.

Last year, the Wall Street Journal reported on new facial recognition technology to be used by police, in which a cop can use an iPhone to snap a photo of someone and cross-check that against a criminal database.  Developed to deal with insurgents in foreign wars, this technology applied domestic is predictably making civil liberties groups queasy.  But there’s a new wrinkle – the company that makes this technology says that “it will be sold only to law-enforcement agencies, although it is considering building applications for the health-care and financial industries.”

Health care and financial industries.  That is interesting.

Meanwhile, in Houston, two school districts are requiring students to wear electronic tagging badges formerly used on cattle. The badges “improve security and increase attendance rates, a figure that’s important because some school funding is tied to attendance.” Students are often attending a different school, while marked absent, and these devices allow funding models to more accurately flow funds. These devices impose a novel degree of surveillance on young adults, observing where they go, with whom they spend time, for budgetary reasons.

Profit-driven surveillance does not starts and stop with young adults. It is, in fact, becoming pervasive. The main theme of a recent IBM consulting document on the future of the insurance industry is how much more money an insurance company can make if it tracks and tags its customers. This is particularly true for auto insurance companies, some of whom like Allstate and Progressive are experimenting on new technologies. For instance, IBM suggests that “A “pay-as-you-live” product would trade some location and time-of-day privacy data for lower insurance bills overall.”

IBM is recommending these companies stick a sensor in your car, measure where you go and when, your speed, acceleration and deceleration, etc. The progression over time could be to withdraw traditional insurance products, so that you won’t be able to get an insurance product without sensors attached. As this presentation offers, “The aforementioned rising tide of technology also empowers insurance underwriters to bring their products closer to realtime interaction via sensor networks and enlightened privacy regulations.”

As Michael Lewis has noted in articles and books on Wall Street and sports, you can slice and dice a mortgage into its component interest rate segment and principal. You can build a baseball team based on aggregating and disaggregating statistics. This kind of analysis is relatively new, a reconstruction of the world based on atomistic level quantitative attributes. For instance, you can track geographic areas based on cell phone relationships rather than borders. Financial engineers believe they can pretty much put a price on anything (whether those prices are any good over time is another matter). So what is your freedom worth? You need air, water, food, and relationships to survive. You want to go shopping, to the movies, to see friends. You have kids, romantics attachments, familial obligations. You like being able to travel, to explore, to watch TV. You need medical care. What are each of these worth? It’s a question that analysts are thinking about.

Wolf Richter gives us an update on the progress, if you can call it that, of the Internet of Things and what it really means for citizens, as opposed to vendors. From Wolf Street:

The “Internet of Things” is the next Big Thing. A universe of devices connected to data centers: your fridge, toaster, alarm clock, garage-door opener, pickup truck, self-driving car, thermostat, “intelligent toilet,” and other doodads.

They’re equipped with a computer chip, other hardware, sensors, and software that can pick up all sorts of data and transmit it via Wi-Fi, cellular, Bluetooth, ZigBee, RFID, and other wireless technologies to hub devices, such as smartphones or PCs, which then pass it on via the Internet to a trusty data center where the data will be used and monetized by one or more corporations. And as we now know, various government agencies can get access to this data in a snap.

You’ll be able to close your garage door with your smartphone, check how many times your kids opened the fridge and what they took out, and you’ll be able to chart it. In turn, your fridge and your pantry will put your grocery list together, transmit it to your smartphone while you’re shopping, or directly to the company that delivers your groceries. Your car remains in constant contact with a data center, and if it stalls on the highway, the data stream it sends back notifies the data center, and help is on the way. If you’re speeding, it might send the data directly to the proper law enforcement agency so that when you get home, you already have the speeding ticket in the email. Your thermostat senses what’s going on in your home, learns the details, the comings and goings, if anyone is at home, and who, and it also adjusts the temperature.

OK, Got It. This is for Your Own Benefit.

Google is at the forefront. It acquired Nest, whose thermostat learns the details of your home and its occupants. It invented Google Glass. It is experimenting with self-driving cars. The possibilities are endless. And based on Google Glass, work is being done to link factory workers to the Internet of Things to make them more efficient. As Automotive News breathlessly reported:

New factory technology is in the pipeline that will turn workers’ clothing into data-emitting devices for plant management. The benefit? Engineers will be able to constantly monitor the air temperature, humidity, and working conditions of a factory process, and track employee motions for ergonomics research and safety concerns.

Internet-connected wearable devices will transmit data automatically, which allows the factory’s computer system to manage and adjust, for example, tooling and equipment on the fly without human intervention, explained Jason Prater, VP of development at Plex Systems, whose Manufacturing Cloud, according to its website, runs the factory operations of “nearly 400 companies.”

Prater was speaking at the 2014 Management Briefing Seminars on Monday. Plex, in collaboration with an automotive metal-stamping supplier, is developing a system centered on Google Glass that workers would wear on the job. These devices would transmit a plethora of data, Prater said, including workers’ movements to maximize assembly-line efficiency and such things as body temperature to monitor their health.

Nothing Will Remain Unexamined.

It’s big business. How big? ABI Research estimates that over 30 billion devices will be connected to the Internet of Things by 2020; Gartner puts the number at 26 billion – not including 7.3 billion PCs, tablets, and smartphones.

That’s a lot of internet-connected things, considering that there are “only” a little over 7 billion people on this planet, including those who recalcitrantly remain beyond the reach of the Internet of Things, or even electricity.

Component costs will drop to less than $1 per device, Gartner predicts, which “opens up the possibility of connecting just about anything, from the very simple to the very complex, to offer remote control, monitoring, and sensing.”

As the Internet of Things spreads across every facet of your work, home, and private life, Gartner expects “the variety of devices offered to explode.” It forecasts that the “economic value-add” will reach $1.9 trillion in 2020. It expects the leaders to be manufacturing, healthcare – maybe you won’t even have to bother going to the doctor anymore – and insurance.

These devices still have novelty status. So an uproar ensued when Nest announced that it would share with Google, its new owner, as well as with third-party services the user data its thermostats have collected, after having promised up and down not to share the data. But as more of these devices enter our lives, such data-sharing will be accepted as the norm, similar to the acceptance of data-sharing by smartphones.

“We take your privacy seriously,” Nest says in its Privacy Statement before laying out what information it collects, “including Personally Identifiable Information (i.e., data that can be reasonably linked to a specific individual or household)….” And it will share this information, very reassuringly, with third parties “only when we think they will provide you with a welcome additional service.”

These Hapless Factory Workers are Trailblazers.

“The next wave is wearable technology, like Google Glass, smart watches, and smart vests,” Prater of Plex systems explained. The advantage of these devices is that they “will allow you to continue using your hands without having to input or look for data.” The data will be sent to the factory’s computer where every movement and drop of sweat will be recorded and analyzed. In Gartner’s words: monitoring, sensing, and remote control of people.

“Today, decisions are made instantaneously,” Prater said. “We can’t wait to hear about things after the fact.” And then the industry insider too had an intriguing forecast: “Turning people into essentially walking sensors is going to be the future.”

And how secure are these devices that make you part of the Internet of Things? You don’t need to break a code; you don’t need to capture a server. “Hardcore hackers wouldn’t even bother with it,” said one of the hackers. “They’d find access too easy.” Read….  Google Glass Hacked, Can Record Everything You Stare At

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  1. Rich

    Welcome to the BORG. Have a nice day. Your day will be monitored and your inability to have nice day will cause a monetary penalty if not incarceration.

      1. Worker-Owner

        How droll. The surveillance will continue long after their fan-children deploy them. You’ll pick up an old work-shirt from a plant and put on embedded surveillance tech aching for some server or peer to talk to. I always conceptualize the “Internet of Things” as a family gathering of all those relatives who talk but never listen. They chatter away at each other and nobody in the room really cares what they said … or remembers.

        Of course, Ray Kurzweil reminds us that after the Singularity, the machines (collectively or singly? … I forget) will be smarter than humans and will appreciate all this otherwise meaningless chatter.

        1. Milquetoast Honey

          The Singularity is just atheist heaven. There will be no great machine in the sky watching over us, using its massive intelligence to guide us, because machine intelligence and artificial intelligence akin to human consciousness is a pipe dream of nerd culture. We don’t understand consciousness. There is no theory, no way to measure, nothing. Until our physicists can unify relativity theory with quantum theory, there will be no basis for even beginning to attempt to theorize about consciousness and its effects on the world.

          This is not to say that the Internet of Things isn’t scary or a bad idea, because it is.

          1. ctrl-z

            Actually, intelligent machines already exist. They just haven’t bothered to tell us yet..

  2. Paper Mac

    “Component costs will drop to less than $1 per device, Gartner predicts,”

    I’d be surprised if any of this kind of prognostication takes seriously the hard limits imposed by peak oil/energy on the widespread incorporation of yet-more-ASICs into, well, everything. Given the way the elites are currently steering the ship, money’s going to be far more dear than time for most of the ‘middle class’ by 2020, so I don’t see the marginal benefit of automatic grocery lists or whatever being all that attractive.

    1. hunkerdown

      No ASIC required. One can buy 2Mbps-capable 2.4GHz radio transceiver, complete with crystal, passives and a trace antenna on the board, for under ten bucks for 10. More likely, something like the CC1110 system-on-chip, starting at ~$2.10 each by thousands today, could conceivably cross the dollar mark within five years. RFID labels with unique IDs can be gotten for around 13¢ each in rolls of 5000. It’s just a matter of recombining the technologies and building volume.

      The attraction is that keeping house no longer requires human time or attention, which surplus would presumably be soaked up by activities more profitable to certain others. The office-fauna class isn’t going to just take it on the chin when the 80+-hour work week rises to their station. The Man needs them onside or the whole world collapses under them.

      1. Paper Mac

        “No ASIC required … More likely, something like the CC1110 system-on-chip,”

        A SoC is an ASIC.

        1. Paper Mac

          Maybe to avoid pedantry it would be best just to drop the AS and leave the IC. The point is that I’ve never seen projections like these account for declining supplies of the minerals required to manufacture ICs, the inevitable increases in the price of energy required to extract them, energy required to operate the fabs in Taiwan and China, etc etc etc. It’s really difficult to know whether the marginal benefit of adding these things to otherwise simple devices (thermostats, light switches, whatever) is going to outweigh costs without doing so.

          1. craazyboy

            Yes, but people will be preoccupied with consolidating all their appliance data and emails into excel for charting and analysis and stop driving around in cars all the time.

            Haha. Just kidding. Maybe.

            But recently I took up microcontroller programming after becoming bored with doing the same old web programming over and over. (yes, I did the flat button look already)

            In addition to the Serious Folk working on things, there is a rather large hobbyist market for this stuff too. The Arduino, using a 8 bit uP on a dev board, and the Raspberry Pi, using the 32 bit Broadcom computer on a chip, are two hot hobbyist products at the moment. The Arduino dev board can be had thru hobby channels as low as $10. There is already a free website where you can have your Ardruino monitor some sensor, say a temperature sensor, make an Ethernet connection, and upload the data to your personal webspace for display in your webpage ! If that doesn’t get your propeller spinning, lots of other things can be done too.

            The micro industry is all twitterpated over market growth projections. As usual, we will be confronted with what tech can provide, then later find out if we like it or not.

              1. craazyboy

                There have been electronic hobbyists around for a long time. I had a microcontroller board back in the mid eighties I played with. But it cost $200, was the size of a PC motherboard, you programmed it in Basic, and you could turn relays on and off with it. (plus a few more things)

                The Arduino came out around 2006, used a cheap Atmel microcontroller, programmable in C/C++, has digital and analog I/O, serial com, and lots of software library support that make it easy to interface to the much larger range of inexpensive electronic devices we have – sensors, motors and servos, Ethernet, wifi, various wireless radio standards, GPS, flash card memory, audio amp, serial programs on a PC, and maybe some stuff I’m forgetting.

                So, things got more interesting, and they claim they sold a half million so far.

                The demographics seem to range from teenager to retired engineers, and all sorts in between. Mainly tinkerer types is the only way I can think to describe it.

                Making robots of various sorts is a major app. It’s sorta merging into the radio control plane, car, boat field, tho special purpose stuff is really the way to go there. Home automation/security. Oh yes, and automated greenhouses. Or stuff just for the hell of it.

                Raspberry Pi is more like a mini PC, so I guess you do mini PC stuff, but I haven’t figured out what that is yet.

                As far as significance, I suppose it gets some high school kids interested in an electronics career, perhaps. Other than that, probably just a hobby for those inclined towards that sort of thing.

              2. hunkerdown

                Arduino is a fairly standard 8-bit microcontroller development board with a bootloader and USB interface, about 20x as fast as the Commodore VIC-20 and with about as much RAM. The value proposition is in its easy-to-learn, multi-platform development environment, and its vibrant “shield” ecosystem of daughterboards or break-out boards (you can, of course, roll your own, though most don’t, or just hook up appropriate external components with fly leads). Official base versions are $30 last I looked; prices for clones and improved versions vary and anyone who can burn the bootloader into a megaAVR chip can build one.

                RaspberryPi is a 32-bit low-cost ARM SoC system configured to provide the basics of a desktop Linux PC designed for grade-school computer education. CPU/RAM is on par with an iPhone 3GS; 3D GPU is on par with the original Xbox. Its value is in being a fair to good, medium-frills Linux desktop that teaches you Python and Linux usage and administration, runs a web browser (or a web server or most any Linux program you can compile), plugs into your TV/monitor and USB hub, fits in your pocket, has a modest amount of general-purpose I/O for hacking, is 99.44% open source (modulo patents), uses little power and costs under $50 for the board alone. This is probably all the PC that grams and gramps really need and they won’t have to worry too much about malware. Recently they’ve launched their own daughterboard system with a few neat features like autoconfiguration. The board is sold plain or with a starter kit (preloaded SD card, AC adapter, enclosure, etc). You can even get them at Radio Shack (while you still can).

                Hackerspaces… they vary, but typically include a wide variety of fabrication and related tools, such as industrial sewing machines, soldering stations, JTAG pods (not to be confused with JTRIG), chem labs, various machine tools, video editing/CAD workstations, home-build CNC plasma cutter with a very large bed, annealing ovens and the obligatory Thing-o-Matic 3-D printer. People pay on the order of $75 a month + usage of common supplies to get access to all this stuff. You could do worse than to visit one near you and see what the fuss is about. They’re usually eager to show off their proverbial cooking.

                The subculture… at a convention not long ago, the local hackerspace brought their group project: a 4’x6′ drum machine with full-color LED-backlit panels that could be touched to turn the sample on and off for that half-beat, with samples rendered by a connected laptop. They say it took about a week or two of spare time to pull together, including machining, wiring, assembly and programming. On previous visits I saw them building a trailer from wood and metal, largely from scratch, but I don’t recall what they ended up using it for. I know of one member who is a board game designer in his spare time and cuts out his pieces for prototypes on the laser cutter.

                Cultural significance… hackerspaces get people coordinating, designing and constructing things together in a supportive, encouraging group milieu. The hackerspace near me feels a bit like a loosely coupled art collective with a side order of geek; high technology tends to be more a means than an end for them but core members often have ordinary or better skill in most of the arts. The RasPi hasn’t had much cultural impact that I’ve seen (even though 2.5mn sold); it doesn’t enable all that much that wasn’t possible before, just makes it smaller, cheaper and more educational. Arduino has certainly brought more people into “physical computing” and I suspect they’ll factor heavily in hobbyist participation in the Internet of Things.

                1. craazyboy

                  Arduino being open source, clones are fair game, and you can find the “base” model (UNO) clones on Ebay from guess where for as low as $10 (and negligible shipping cost – another physical anomaly). The more upscale MEGA is $15.

                  AVR bootloaders go for $9, and minified Adruino software compatible breakout boards (sans headers, USB port and other space consuming things meant for easy breadboarding) go for $4. If tiny is your goal, you can get the Arduino/Atmel combo into as small an area as 1″ X .6″. Then it only costs $9 for the bootloader hardware and you can upload the software to the striped down boards.

                  Having community access to things like laser cutting, 3D printing and PCB fab sounds handy as hell. I did a see German company where you can upload PCB design files and within a week or two get a custom board in your physical mailbox for $30. Some Chinese places too. This is all great if you have a custom design you are sort of serious about and want to make it to more professional build standards.

          2. Larry

            Energy is in the form of electricity (nuclear will do fine, as it does in Taiwan) – and there are massive economies of scale.

            As for materials, silicon isn’t rare at all. With material scarcity, I’d say ASICs become even more desirable, since they use less than discrete components on circuit boards.

            1. hunkerdown

              Very good point. Microcontrollers and digital signal processing have made a lot of touchy, unstable, power-hungry, failure-prone analog circuitry effectively obsolete. Yet people still design with 7800/7900 series heaters linear voltage regulators without a second thought. Ah well.

    2. diptherio

      The Archdruid Report shares your opinion, and I do too. When we can’t find enough clean water to drink or irrigate, making cheap RFID chips is going to fall way, way down on the priority list.

      1. Ed

        Why can’t we have both? Why can’t there be a world with little clean water but round the clock surveillance? That was after all the society Orwell envisaged. You just need elites to put scarce resources into controlling the population instead of giving them things like clean water.

        1. Ulysses

          Elites have already put more resources into controlling the population than into giving them clean water. The money that alphabet agencies spend tracking all the occ&py Sandy people, who are bringing water to Detroit, would go a long way to paying all the overdue water bills in that particular urban “sacrifice zone” (to use Chris Hedges’ term).

          It has become clear that our kleptocratic overlords understand human survival on this planet in very narrow terms. They are perfectly cool with having limited numbers of “fly-over” people survive upcoming disasters caused by their own greed. They are insane enough to think that their massive amounts of money will allow them to live beautiful lives in pleasant little enclaves. They imagine themselves defended by well-compensated mercenaries against any poor unfortunates, struggling to survive while deemed expendable, who might attempt to get them to share resources.

          The movie Elysium (with all its many limitations) begins to suggest the kind of dystopia the kleptocrats and their technocratic lackeys are establishing. The favored few who serve the kleptocrats’ more refined needs will be monitored as closely as the proles who do the dirty work.

          Imagine a novelist getting an unpleasant little electrical shock whenever her fiction gets a little too realistic– and threatens to stray into “thought crime” territory. Our Galtian overlords aren’t limited to Rand, Kafka, Huxley, and Orwell in their daydreams of a “better” future (for them). We have a brief window of time to shake up the established order of things– before the Hunger Games will seem like a pleasant alternative to the harsh reality that may well await us later in the 21st century.

        2. sleepy

          Yes, if anything, the scarcity of necessary resources would prompt the elites to double down on their need for total surveillance.

          “We need to know when, where, and how much rainwater you collect in a barrel”.

      2. fresno dan

        Crazy talk. Next thing, you’ll be telling me I can’t eat my I-pad….
        I-pad – low carb, high fiber and an excellent source of cadmium….

    3. washunate

      Agreed. I get a big chuckle out of “Gartner predicts”. The tech punditry often pans actual devices that are interesting from a mass market perspective (like the iPhone) while getting all excited about wearables or other gadgets that have little point or addressable commercial market. People don’t want lots of connected devices to juggle. They want their phone. PDAs didn’t take off until it could be lots of devices in one (music player, home phone, alarm clock, email checker, web browser, video screen, calendar, game player, shopping list, etc.).

      What person not in the educated technocratic elite will even be able to afford wearables and smart appliances and so forth? There’s a whole generation of ‘cord-nevers’ who can’t even afford (and/or don’t want) cable TV – and that technology is decades old now.

      1. ambrit

        The dynamic will be like the employment system is evolving into today. Now many jobs require a credit check, even when demonstrably not necessary for the type of job. Auto insurance is often red lined, ie. tied to the geographic location of the customer. The Internet of Things will most probably be melded in with other more basic “needs” of our so called modern society. Disney World now has your “ticket” to the rides etc. in the form of a wristband. What else is in that piece of technology that you aren’t told about? Cable? Well, we use the old tech two wire internet connection system because the optical cable internet offered requires that you sign up for Basic Cable first. The modems sent out for your ‘hook up’ might very well include IoT surveillance ware already.
        If I had any real money, I’d go in for setting up a Jail Break Yourself line of products for the Do It (Right) Yourself crowd. (Then the Deep State would go and take it over too.)

        1. Glenn Condell

          ‘People don’t want lots of connected devices to juggle.’

          Nor do they want a house full of gadgets that spy on them. What I’m wondering is whether in time there won’t be a choice.

          ‘If I had any real money, I’d go in for setting up a Jail Break Yourself line of products for the Do It (Right) Yourself crowd. (Then the Deep State would go and take it over too.)’

          How is that NSA proof black phone going? Of course it probably isn’t much more NSA proof than an iPhone, but just as the Chinese and Germans are busy not buying US produced hard and software, most individuals too feel a basic revulsion of surveillance and you would think there’s be a ready market for non-invasive fridges, ovens, toasters, etc.

      2. toldjaso

        They cannot succeed except with the “mass market” — they think by “numbers” only, and this is the the tragic flaw in their system. Without Mass Compliance they cannot succeed. Think about it.

    4. toldjaso

      The cheaper the smack, the more and quicker it sells to chumps. Push that tech! Addictem all to junk.
      “The Man With the Golden Arm” – Produced and Directed by Otto Preminger

  3. Eureka Springs

    Aside from the privacy issues, I think about what entities like netflix and amazon (both with thousands of music and movie data points on me but well over 90 percent incorrect in their recommendations or google knowing all my email and surfing preferences with horrific selected advertisements – has anyone ever purchased a single thing google or any other bot ads places in front of you?) tell me I would like to purchase and I rather doubt a grocery list generated by my refrigerator will be of any more use. And I refuse to waste money on cars with a dash full of electronics, such as dvd players, rear view cameras, gps, maps, sat. radio and such…. when the smart phone has all of that and can easily be carried anywhere/replaced/repaired/turned off/not owned at all. I guess what surprises me most, aside from the glaring privacy issues and the fact people wont turn their head to look behind them but rely on a camera instead, is how much people are willing to spend on redundant electronics… especially in cars where electronics are locked in a dash and extremely costly to purchase/repair/replace. As for insurance companies… if they like it, it must be a ponzi scheme.

    1. Katniss Everdeen

      Agree with absolutely EVERYTHING you said.

      Especially the redundant electronics. My personal favorite is the BMW commercial where the gal LOOKS UP the directions inside her house on her tablet or laptop or whatever and sends it to her car. I thought the car was supposed to do that. How many devices do you actually need to get directions or open your garage door? (They solved that one a long time ago.)

      As for making a grocery list, how hard is it to remember chips and soda? They keep forever. Preservatives, you know. Everyone eats out anyway if you believe Chipotle’s stock price.

      As for all this “wearable” tech to “monitor” your health, I can save you a ton of bucks. If you are an American, it’s probably lousy. Now, go get a $20 burrito that’s enough to feed 5 people at Chipotle.

      As for making “factory workers” more “efficient,” tech is way behind the power curve. “Factoryless” manufacturing was just invented. The US doesn’t do factories any more.

      “It’s big business. How big? ABI Research estimates that over 30 billion devices will be connected to the Internet of Things by 2020; Gartner puts the number at 26 billion – not including 7.3 billion PCs, tablets, and smartphones.

      That’s a lot of internet-connected things, considering that there are “only” a little over 7 billion people on this planet, including those who recalcitrantly remain beyond the reach of the Internet of Things, or even electricity.”

      30-35 BILLION devices with “only” 7 billion potential device owners, a number that’s shrinking every day if you consider Palestine, Ukraine, Africa and the Middle East. Oh, and the Netherlands and which ever group of humans is going to be false-flagged next.

      Give me a break.

      1. ambrit

        We are so sorry Mz. Everdeen. We give nothing away. Please be ready with your preferences when our Customer Care Representative calls you. Easy financing available.

      2. sleepy

        Actually, I find rearview cameras in cars to be useful as a safety device. I can see far more than by visually looking behind me and the camera is gridded showing in inches how far I am away from an object.

    2. Ed S.

      has anyone ever purchased a single thing google or any other bot ads places in front of you?


    3. cnchal

      has anyone ever purchased a single thing google or any other bot ads places in front of you?

      No, not me either.

      1. craazyboy

        Been wondering about that. I always get an ad to buy the thing I just bought a couple days before.

        I’ve concluded the whole marketing idea is “Buy two for the price of two”.

        Weird, but true.

  4. Skeptic

    Repeating the opening quote:

    “Society is now created for technological, rather than human requirements. And that’s where tragedy begins.”
    —C.V. Gheorgiu, The Twenty-Fifth Hour, 1950

    The human species is the first to ever engage in extinguishing itself. See Bill Joy, for example, WHY THE FUTURE DOESN’T NEED US.

    Have to go, the phone is amusingly ringtoning.

  5. Turtle

    In this sad, pathetic vision of our near term future, even the number of times one lifts the toilet seat will probably be collected by some faceless corporate person and/or government agency.

  6. diptherio

    Why is it that every time someone writes a dystopian sci-fi novel, some douchebag technologist has to go out and try to make it a reality. “Skynet? Sounds sweet, let’s build it!”

    And it’s already gone WAY beyond your toaster and thermostat: Researchers at McGill University seem intent on actually creating the Terminator franchise in real life:

    The DRDC’s stated aim, according to its 2004 technical report, was to assemble a fleet of unmanned vehicles that could “operate and interact” with one another in combat. The development of a strategy, or a common software architecture, that integrates different vehicles, would allow the Canadian Forces to harmonize the operations of unmanned air, ground and marine systems. “Systems” here is a military term for vehicles such as drones, armoured cars and submarines.

    For DRDC, the battlefields of the future would be shaped by robotic collective intelligence. Autonomous decision-making would be based on the constant collection of data and exchange of information between the various independent unmanned systems and soldiers on the ground. For example, drones would be able to share their bird’s-eye view and mapping capabilities with other unmanned vehicles and soldiers on the ground or at sea.

    And I wonder about all these sensing devices: will they only be gathering data on the user, or will they also end up surveilling others as well? Will you be able to tell?

    1. MtnLife

      I think this falls under Terminator systems also. Would it be called an “unmanned soldier” or “unmanned infantry”?

      1. craazyboy

        Urban Warfare Patri-bot – climb stairs, step over rubble, uncanny(?) ability to avoid heavy stamping machinery – get the terrorists…

    2. craazyboy

      I worked on parts of the predecessor to the Predator drone back in 1985 or so. The movement has been around longer than you may be aware.

      I see now we are moving towards “robotic collective intelligence” and “autonomous decision-making”. That’s geek speak for letting the robots flip a virtual coin. HaHa. I wonder if these guys ever listen to themselves speak. “Don’t worry Mr. Commander-In-Chief. No need to duck – the Hover_Destructo_Bots are autonomous decision makers!”

      I dunno. Maybe. In sci-fi the AI program always gives the answer to the chief, then asks permission to execute the plan. But then the plot always picks up.

      As far as surveillance goes, everything will watch everything, then archive it all, but no one will have time to watch it in real time.

  7. washunate

    This has been a fascinating topic for some time now. I wonder about intergenerational changes over time, since many (becoming most) Americans have no memory of the pre-computing revolution era. They are certainly comfortable taking advantage of technology where it suits them, but simultaneously, there is much greater suspicion – even ethical and moral codes – developing around what large organizations can/ought/are doing with all this monitoring power.

    When MMTers use Sector Financial Balances to make a political argument that government should spend more money, the abuse of surveillance seems completely off their radar about the actual experiences and opinions younger people have of how dangerous and oppressive government activity can be.

  8. Turtle

    In this sad, pathetic vision of our near term future, even the number of times one lifts the toilet seat will probably be collected by some corporate person and/or secret government agency.

  9. dandelion

    So, my refrigerator broke. Woke up last week, everything spoiled, everything in the freezer melted. We put what we could into an ice chest and called three repairmen, only one of whom could show up within two days. The guy came that afternoon, decided it was the computer. He’d have to order the part. Which took three days. Then a day for him to come out and install it. Then a day for the fridge to reach cold temp again. Five days in San Francisco, the city now that tech calls home — where billions are being funneled to 22-year old geniuses so that I can order my own personal favorite grilled cheese sandwich delivered to my house just by pushing a button — without refrigeration because the fridge now runs on computer instead of whatever else it ran on when it lasted 25 years and never broke and because it takes 3 days to get a replacement part from wherever.

    On the one hand, these components are very powerful; on the other, they’re extremely fragile — no one ever really talks about that part. We don’t really where wooden shoes anymore, but then again — we don’t need them to be wood.

    1. Carolinian

      Yves has talked about the crapification of appliances. Time was a refrigerator or toaster would last fifty years. Refrigerators don’t need a tech update from the old mechannical systems. That said, the improvements in efficiency are all to the good. Best to find a fridge with good energy use, no computer.

      1. MtnLife

        Why make a refrigerator that lasts 50 years? Someone will just throw it out in 15 when it’s “out of date” along with the rest of their kitchen. *I* am all for having one that lasts that long but for most Americans it is kind of a waste. It would be better to make it easily recyclable or, in going the long route, making it much easier to change the outside appearance through panels (wood/metal/whatever). Or maybe we could just get rid of HGTV, DIY, Better Homes and Gardens, etc. to stop giving people a new style to conform to. It’s really sad how many people want to show their individuality by making their house look just like everyone else’s.

        1. dandelion

          Sure, crapification etc. Here’s the thing: I’m in the exact center of TechLand. San Francisco. Disruption, innovation, changing the world, app development, wireless everything, remote control orgasms, pizza delivery apps, uber, stock options, air b&b, google buses, google glass, Facebook Facebook Facebook, game development with even bigger he-men to kill even bigger aliens, dating apps, hookup apps, delivery me a hooker app, bring me a beer app, signing bonuses, luxury condo after luxury condo going up from all the billions spent on all this world-changing tech — and for five days I can’t keep a quart of milk cold in my house without daily treks to the market for ice because the computer chip in my fridge broke. There’s a disconnect there.

          1. MtnLife

            I’m not so sure about there being a disconnect. Tech is the ultimate exercise in crapification. There is no such thing as a bug free product but that’s okay because it’ll be obsolete and thrown away before it bothers too many people to influence profit. Everything is ephemeral exercise in make-work that rarely “improves” our lives. It sucks gymnasiums full of money into producing invisible products completely devoid of social or community value while ignoring the real problems we face. Why fund renewable energy research, green mass transit, or sustainable local food production when you can drop a couple billion here and there on new ways to text and send pictures to each other? I mean what kind of backward, uncivilized heathens would we be without 23 ways to share a picture of our breakfast with the world? Next you’ll say we shouldn’t be developing plates and restaurant lighting fixtures that take and post that pic for us. We apparently have divine marching orders to extract rare earths as fast as possible to enhance our personal entertainment and social self-glorification experience. My shipment of rare earths was labelled “dolphin safe” so I don’t believe any of those claims of environmental degradation, systematic rape, and other violence. People have totally forgotten what life actually is and the things that are actually important. Californians give lip service to their life(style) threatening drought conditions but call 911 when Facebook goes down.

            1. Tom Bradford

              “People have totally forgotten what life actually is and the things that are actually important.”

              That thought occurred to me, too, when reading dandelion’s complaint that all his high tech apps couldn’t keep his milk cold. I don’t worry about keeping milk cold as every day I wander up to the byre in the morning, milk a half-gallon out of Chloe the housecow, cool it in the creek and turn what’s left of her half-gallon from the previous day into cheese, butter or yoghourt – and all without a microchip in sight.

        2. Lord Koos

          Even the simplest newer devices, such as a computer-controlled electric kettle, seem to fail within a year (we’ve been through three of them). I think we are already in a time where people are no longer throwing away usable stuff so quickly… at least that ever-growing portion of the American people who have seen their real income shrink rapidly in the last 10 years. We are probably more frugal than many, but we now hang on to stuff until it breaks, and I almost never buy anything brand new unless it is absolutely neccessary (like an overdue computer upgrade). When I lived in a wealthy west coast city, we furnished our entire kitchen off of craigslist — some rich family was tearing down a house to build a new one and I bought their old Jenn-air convection range for $50. It worked perfectly. Unfortunately we now live in a smaller town where the local craigslist is barren.

      2. sleepy

        Yeah, are you old enough to remember when you could get a pair of shoes resoled? Or a lamp rewired? Or a TV repaired?

        1. Jagger

          You can still resole a shoe now yourself. It isn’t difficult. I don’t know if I would want to fool around with a TV but rewiring a lamp shouldn’t be hard.

          Had my air conditioner go out on my RV. A little research on the internet and I was able to fix it myself. Never worked on an air conditioner in my life. If you have some time and want to put in the effort, the internet will show you how to fix many different things.

    2. fresno dan

      August 7, 2014 at 10:22 am

      I’m not going to mention “craponics” (my version of the FED’s hedonics – hedonics the imaginary Candide world where everything gets better, and better, and better…. because the FED is full of imbeciles who can’t figure out most “improvements” are marketing ploys and planned obsolescence ) because my psychiatrists (well, my imaginary psychiatrist cause I can’t afford a real one) tell me I’m obsessed with the subject….

  10. Calgacus

    When MMTers use Sector Financial Balances to make a political argument that government should spend more money, the abuse of surveillance seems completely off their radar about the actual experiences and opinions younger people have of how dangerous and oppressive government activity can be.
    MMT arguments for governments spending more money aren’t really based on sectoral balances, and do not involve increased surveillance. They’re based on people being desperate for money. And only the government can do something about that.

    the abuse of surveillance seems completely off their radar about the actual experiences and opinions younger people have of how dangerous and oppressive government activity can be.
    Younger people have actual experience of and opinions that getting too much money from the government is dangerous and oppressive? I don’t think so.

    1. Lambert Strether


      MMT arguments for governments spending more money aren’t really based on sectoral balances, and do not involve increased surveillance. They’re based on people being desperate for money. And only the government can do something about that.

      I don’t know if this idea is often phrased so forcefully.

      On surveillance, I agree with Washunate. But that’s positioning that people outside MMT have to help with, I think. The plumber doesn’t built the whole house…

      1. jonboinAR

        We can refine the statement slightly to say that people are becoming desperate for access to resources and usable infrastructure. In other words, I wouldn’t need any money for healthcare if healthcare were provided single-payer-wise, for “free”. I don’t know if this quibble I’m making matters or not, but it’s not money, exactly, that we’re becoming hard-up for.

  11. IdiocracyIsAlreadyHere

    Wow, a future that looks like a combination of “The Terminator”, “The Matrix” and “1984”? Can’t hardly wait!

    Honestly, I think Peak Oil will have a say in much of this never coming to pass. This requires A LOT of energy, and while it is probably correct to that TPTB would expend what limited resources remain available on means control the populace, none of this technological control has been attempted on a society that has completely broken down. Yes, our overlords would chose 24/7 surveillance over clean drinking water for the masses but that does not mean it would be a workable realty in practice. Law of unintended consequences seems to have a way of arising in unexpected ways.

  12. Jay M

    Put on my smart tie this morning, a nice paisley with more supercomputing power than the NSA had in 2014. Synched it with the habitatcomp as I swallowed the breakpowder mixed in with the sulfurous smelling water and made my way out to the carputer. Putting us on a powdered diet eliminated the need for smart refrigerators and freed up r&d for the supercomputing tie. Fumbled mindlessly in a drawer on the way out the door (it belongs to mensa) and grabbed a simple tool. The self driving car whirred outside my mc-mansion, which folded into a small cube as I left (30 billion population these days). The windows displayed adverts the whole way, not really sure if I actually went anywhere. Felt the necktie tightening and I realized I’d been hacked for thinking dystopian thoughts, whipped out my scissors and cut off the tie. Puncturing the thin film of the cars windows (super high definition) I realized I was sitting in a garbage dump on an old paint can with a thousand other people enraptured by their devices, as the rats and cockroaches scuttled under our feet.

    1. fresno dan

      When I cut off my tie I found out my wife used to be a man…..mannequin (well, of course, the very word is MANnequin)

  13. oliverks

    My start up, http://www.elementalsensor.com, is making an IoT chemical sensor. Our vision is to let people sense at the point of use to protect themselves, as opposed to control them.

    For example, if the sensor were built into your water faucet, we could monitor well water across the country. By aggregating this data, you and your neighbors could start figuring out who is polluting your environment.

    Not all IoT needs to be evil. The trick is to try and support the applications that help rather than hurt you.

  14. kevinearick

    Hot Money: Pop Goes the Weasel

    Civil marriage entitlement at the end of the FILO bankruptcy queue is the carrot, and Family Law inversion is the stick. The rest of the law is stacked by doctrine into event horizons, in between. You are the switch, the bank replaces with hot money.

    In Silicon Valley, the refrain is that you are either a programmer or a slave to the machines they program. And no matter what pond you visit, the majority thinks the same way, whether it’s lobbyists, doctors or elevator mechanics.

    Longevity, still low relative to preceding cultures, is not a result of healthcare. It’s the result of the baby boomer’s parents putting their children first. Look at the data. Of course the majority of boomers are sucking the system dry, as all majorities are inclined to do, because watching, the derivative, is not the same as doing, the integral.

    The global dc technology economy is awash in fixed costs on dead inventory, with associated spiraling finance costs, because the majority is always in the wrong place, at the wrong time, doing the wrong thing, chasing hot money at the cost of purchasing power, starving new growth to pay for self-inflicted disability.

    The insurers cannot meet their obligations, because they spent the money scaling fixed costs, to keep the ponzi going. They are not laying railroad ties for a slow train going the wrong direction by accident. Actuarial science is no more a science than Amazon is a bookseller, and Russia is already full up with loss-leaders.

    Middle class divorce and legacy corporate reorganization are all about switching partners, climbing the Titanic as it sinks, always at war. A contract made to be broken at the first strong wind, taking out the rungs from below, is not the basis of civilization, any more than its technology is the answer the resulting war.

    Just yesterday, programming was something more than a trade becoming a commodity, like its predecessors. The corporations ‘retrain’ the newly minted graduates, replacing the last row of teeth, in a few weeks, to subscribe to the latest corporatology, but only after the graduates have shown that they are stupid enough to bid for ponzi debt with their time. Newly minted doctors are no different.

    With a great deal of work, which the majority avoids assiduously, you can help an individual widen perspective, to grow the switch, but no amount of work will change the buffer of peer pressure from within the system. What do you do with that diagnostic program when the car won’t start and memory is full of derivative errors?

    The problemsolution of a closed system within an open system is that all the devices are connected, despite appearing to be isolated into circuits. An error in one cycle creates apparently unrelated errors in subsequent cycles, until the entire system is infected, chasing its own tail.

    Never follow monkeys into a building without a meter, never show the ape you can use a meter, and pull home runs to the controller every chance you get. You want to be able to bypass all the controls and isolate the sub-circuits. Begin at the beginning, the return line to the motor.

    If you widen your perspective to improve discernment, you will always find yourself at the end and the beginning, leaving the empire befuddled, because it can’t know what you are going to do next. The future of a closed system is brightest before it blows. You are looking for the darkest corner, just before daylight.

    It’s not about good and evil, or any such other short cut, with which the majority creates the bipolar, divide and conquer world, it chooses to see, subjecting itself to predation by sociopaths, from both sides. Behavior occurs in system distributions, in many dimensions.

    Putin is simply getting out, before his artificial borders implode, while other borders are imploding. The Bay Area is not a strategic asset; it’s a psychological asset only to those fully invested in dc control extortion, which means that a lot of really stupid decisions are being made just now.

    Hot money is a problemsolution. If you haven’t noticed, the derivative world map is being redrawn again, by derivative dc control technology, keeping automatons safely spying on each other with law enforcement, which doesn’t work because all hot money can do is travel back and forth like a pendulum, more efficiently blowing bubbles in balance sheets. The future, traveling through spacefolds, requires something a bit more thoughtful.

    Humans have the same problems as other species; the majority fails to save current surplus to cover future deficit. Hot money employs the mythology of debt as income, chasing debt as asset, other people’s future surplus, becoming increasingly myopic in the process, leaving itself no other outcome but war, with itself.

    Let the politicians build their global city on a foundation of sand, drilling sand mines beneath them, while you focus on your purely community interests, beyond the grasp of the FILO bankruptcy queue.

  15. casino implosion

    Only thing for certain with this stuff: unforseen consequences. Beware of tech hipsters in rectangular-framed designer spectacles selling technological snake oil.

  16. chris m

    as we’ve been told, the threshold of machine self awareness can’t be far behind. so, let’s recap: total information employed by machines that will become self aware=the singularity is near..

  17. Gerard Pierce

    I just got through re-reading a sci-fi novel called “Market Forces” by Richard Morgan – subtitled “the future is for sale”. It was originally published around 2004.

    Other than the road-rage challenges where corporate executives run their opponents off of the road, (killing them to see who gets promoted or who gets the contract), it’s a pretty good catch on neo-liberal psychology, the psychology of elitism and of power.

    Even though some of the characters are cartoonish, it’s still a work of genius. The story is set in 2049, but today looks much like Morgan’s 2049.

    1. Lambert Strether

      Richard Morgan is great. I agree that the “road rage” premise is dumb, and almost too visibily movie studio bait, but on neo-liberal psychology, it’s great. You might try his Takeshi Kovacs series. From Broken Angels:

      Hand took it quite well, considering. He got them to turn over one of the corpses and crouched beside it, poking at the charred spinal chord with a metal stylus.

      “Molecular acid canister,” he said thoughtfully. “Last year’s Shorn Biotech. I didn’t realise the Kempists had these yet.”

      “They’ve got everything you’ve got, Hand. They’ve just got a lot less of it, that’s all. Read your Brankovitch. “Trickledown in War-based Markets”.”

      “Yes, thank you, Kovacs.” Hand rubbed at his eyes. “I already have a doctorate in Conflict Investment. I don’t really need the gifted amateur reading list.

      “A doctorate in Conflict Investment.” The Ivies haven’t gotten quite that psychopathic. At least not yet.

  18. Lambert Strether

    Two paranoid scenarios for IoT:

    a) Appliance as a service. There’s a chip with Wifi that runs your fridge, and if you don’t pay your monthly $20 to Frigidaire, your refrigerator dies.

    b) Consumer Stuxnet. There’s a chip with Wifi that runs your washer. If Maytag needs to sell more washers, they broadcasts a message that changes the washer firmware so that your washer vibrates and speeds up and down just a little more, just enough for X% of the washers out there to break down and need replacement.

    Not that I’m foily.

    1. craazyboy

      I worry about being spammed by my fridge. Or it has a display&audio that runs Google-Facebook ads.
      But maybe virus software will become available that we can upload and defeat these features.

      1. hunkerdown

        Probably not Google-Facebook, but Kraft-Kellogg’s. How much would you pay as a dairy marketer to have “got milk?” on everyone’s fridge for 24 hours?

    2. Mark P.

      ‘There’s a chip with Wifi that runs your fridge, and if you don’t pay your monthly $20 to Frigidaire, your refrigerator dies.’

      Phil Dick was on this in 1969 in his novel UBIK, in which protagonist Joe Chip has to pay money to his coffee put and then his apartment door in order to go outside.

    3. hunkerdown

      I couldn’t help but chuckle at the washer example. I could totally imagine the car lease enforced by phoning home, or the governor-as-a-service.

      Or, you buy a kid some action figure or doll and you find the matching Michael Bay or Judd Apatow movie queued up on Netflix automagically.

  19. Pepsi Girl

    Sub-Commandante Marcos has written about how, if marginalized groups want to survive persecution in society, they should resist by removing themselves from the institutions of that society and building their own.

    So the thing to do would be to create businesses without these things, gathering groups of people who refuse all of the tracking stuff and build a more humane community.

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