The “Internet of Things” Will Transform Policymaking (and Democracy)

Lambert here: Here’s that word “smart” again….

By Giuseppe Porcaro, Head of Communications and Events at Bruegel. Originally published at Bruegel.

Any device with an on-and-off switch can (and should) be connected to the Internet. This is the basic idea of the industrial internet, also referred to as the ‘internet of things’. Forecasts indicate that around 6.4 billion connected devices will be in use worldwide by the end of 2016, up 30% from 2015. The total will reach 20.8 billion by 2020.

These figures show the scale of the technological change, but there is little agreement on the likely consequences. Arguments about the industrial internet mix fact and science with speculation and emotion. Some warn that we are witnessing the arrival of a darker world of surveillance, consumer lock-in, and violations of privacy and security. Others predict a revolutionary, fully-interconnected “smart” world of progress, efficiency and opportunity.

The hope is that, after years of economic crisis, the internet of things will boost production and bring huge benefits for consumers. To fulfil this promise, governments are gradually adopting new regulatory frameworks and policies on issues such as interoperability, privacy, security, data storage and spectrum and bandwidth.

However, deep changes will also occur in the political realm. The availability of a wealth of data will offer new raw material for democratically accountable politicians when they are making policy decisions. At first sight, this new situation resembles little more than an upgraded version of the current approach to evidence-based policy. However, with increased automatisation and real-time data processing, the nature and use of this “evidence” will inevitably change. Synchronisation of data flows and decision making might result in the automatic selection of the “best” possible policies.

Who Will Own the Data?

So far, the main producers of background studies and policy papers on this issue have been government agencies, think tanks, civil society organisations, industries and trade associations. All agree on one crucial question: who will own the “evidence” gathered through the industrial internet?

Data or algorithms could be private or common goods, according to political choices. This choice will affect incentives for producing and collecting data. The economic value of data is increasingly relevant, as are questions about the accessibility, storage and treatment of data. An increasing asymmetry might occur between those able to access such information and those who will be denied, either for economic reasons such as the price of data, or political reasons such as the wish to keep data away from specific groups.

If access to data is denied for economic reasons, would this be perceived as discrimination? Will the industrial internet create new forms of discrimination? What about data issues linked to the fight against organised crime or terrorism? According to Gartner, by 2020 there will be a black market worth more than $5 billion for fake sensor and video data to enable criminal activity and protect personal privacy.

Organisational Changes in Politics

The internet of things could also transform the political process. The massive availability of data and the increasing power of decision-making algorithms will change both political institutions and the organisations influencing whoever or whatever will be making decisions.

Will political parties continue to be the standard form of organisation to represent the voices of the electorate? How will political campaigns look in the era of the industrial internet? What institutional set-up can best channel and apply the new information gathered through the internet of things?

The policy “production” process might be utterly redesigned. Data collected by devices we use on a daily basis (such as vehicles, domestic appliances and wearable sensors) will provide precious evidence about the drivers of personal voting choices, or the impact of government decisions.

Vital New Competencies

Social actors who wish to influence policy debates – think tanks, lobbyists, advocates and campaigners – will have to find new ways to use and explain this data. They will still have a role proposing and communicating alternative policy scenarios, but they will also have to consider algorithm-generated policy options. In this context we will probably see changes in political communications. Whether describing or promoting policy options, commentators will have to take into account the changed “building blocks” of policy debates and decision making itself.

Think tanks and other applied research centres will need to develop new skills and capacity to access and process data in real time, otherwise their analytical capacity might become outdated. In the long term, this also means that governments should invest more in education, with a focus on relevant competencies.

Meanwhile, politicians will have to be much more specific in describing and justifying their role in the process. Their capacity as storytellers, which is already an essential skill, will become ever more important.

Policies as Sellable Outcomes

One of the promises of the industrial internet is to push our economic system towards an outcome economy. Companies will create value not just by selling products and services, but by delivering solutions that directly produce quantifiable results.

This has already happened in some areas. In 2013, Monsanto purchased Climate Corporation, a company which has used remote sensing to map all the farming fields in the United States by shape, crop, yield, soil capacity and other critical metrics. Monsanto can therefore predict which seeds will grow best in which fields and under what conditions, and deliver the products that are most likely to deliver the outcome which the client has paid for.

Within such an economic system, policies could become sellable commodities purchased by governments in a market of outcomes. For example, the mayor of a city might decide to buy a platform that will design and implement specific policies to manage traffic congestion or pollution. Solutions of this kind are being already developed. In Los Angeles, in 2014, a company called StreetLine installed 7,000 hockey-puck-sized sensors in city roadbeds that communicate real-time parking conditions to smartphone apps, telling drivers where parking is available. A minister of health could buy a nationwide strategy with applications for remote patient monitoring, allowing doctors to obtain real-time access to health data.

A New Role for Politicians

One immediate worry is the risk that politicians will rely too heavily on unaccountable high-tech companies, purchasing outcomes delivered through services they do not understand. How can we address the associated concerns?

One possibility would be to keep politics in the public realm by shifting collective decision making towards a more outcome-oriented approach. Elected governments could continue to play an active role in the new world of the industrial internet. They would continue to be elected by citizens to decide on common and public goals, but these would eventually be pursued independently by “outcome providers” chosen by the government from a marketplace.

In this scenario, the policy debate would probably move from issues closely linked to technical implementation towards broader discussions. Democratic processes could set the limits within which algorithms and machines work to automatically deliver outcomes. The democratically chosen values and parameters standing behind the algorithms would help transform the massive flow of data into concrete applications and solutions.

Communication Challenges

Political stakeholders will have to keep up with these changes if they want to retain their influence over the way policies are drafted, decided, implemented and evaluated. They will have to react swiftly while society is finding its way through the tension between a technocratic automatised dystopia, a dream-like techno-utopia and a digitally-enhanced business as usual.

Indeed, in the case of the industrial internet, prevailing political discourses and narratives will also shape the further development of the technology. There will be a feedback loop between the impact of new technologies on political debates and processes, and the impetus or limits that politics then applies to the industry. The direction of travel is far from certain, and the level of transformation is still unknown. However, political communicators need to be ready to change their practice to suit new political realities.

How will this affect the role of media and other political commentators? Will these changes increase or diminish their power in influencing political outcomes? Perhaps we will see campaigns in which individual citizens will have more direct access to politicians, but what would that mean in practice? Professional communicators will play a pivotal role in shaping such discourse wherever they operate: in industry, research, government or within pressure groups. The most important mission that they have is to transmit goals and proposals in an understandable way, in order to keep citizens aware of the causes and consequences of the changes that are happening. Only this way can citizens ultimately exercise a transparent and democratic oversight of the future of society.

Disruptive Technologies Spill Over

To draw some partial conclusions, the industrial internet certainly constitutes a disruptive technology in the industrial production process — but it will inevitably spill over into the political process. The most immediate consequence is the need for regulation to adapt fast enough to keep up with technological progress. However, the medium and long-term consequences are yet to be defined and could entail radical changes in governance and democracy. It is important that we start this discussion now and consider all the risks and opportunities involved in such epochal change. Indeed, the debate itself is a vital first step to ensure that the transition to a big data society is democratic in both direction and destination.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
This entry was posted in Guest Post on by .

About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. Sneeje Sneejerson

    Not to mention the coming security apocalypse the Internet of Poorly Secured things will bring:

    See above for warnings and below for a recent DDoS attack on Brian Krebbs website that is one of the biggest assaults the Internet has ever seen all thanks to poorly unsecured Internet of Things devices.

  2. Tom

    So many questions.

    Where is all this bandwidth going to come from?

    Yesterday we learned going to the doctor for an annual checkup makes us less healthy; today the internet of things wants doctors to be able to monitor our vitals in real time?

    Why does Streamline communicate real-time parking conditions to drivers’ smartphone apps instead of directly to self-driving cars’ CPUs?

    In fact, why do we need parking space at all in the internet of things era?

    We can shop online and get deliveries via drone, or, once 3D printers come down in price, we can buy the codes for products we want online and manufacture them right at home. We can stream entertainment such as music, movies and all other manner of performances. We can all telecommute for our jobs. We can stay in touch with family and friends via social media. We’ll never have to leave!

    The internet of things promises to fulfill Le Corbusier’s famous observation that “the house is a machine for living in.”

    Aside from worries that the Russians could hack into my toaster and change the settings from light to dark, what could go wrong?

    Better get my popcorn — my smartphone just got an alert from my microwave that it’s ready.

    1. George

      Better get my popcorn — my smartphone just got an alert from my microwave that it’s ready.

      Or: your smartphone just got “microwaved” because of an alert from your malware.

          1. Tom

            That’s my cue to make another corny pun, but I don’t want to cause a row, get an earful of abuse or even worse, get stalked on the Internet. So I’ll just keep quiet.

              1. Tom

                Only if they’re not inundated by donation requests from the DNC.

                But seriously, where’s your sense of patriotism?

                For instance, who can ever forget the words,

                “Ask not what your country can do for your toaster — ask what your toaster can do for your country.”

                And if there’s ever another 9/11, God forbid, the Potus won’t need to exhort citizens consumers to go shopping — he (or, God forbid, she) can just issue an emergency Executive Buy order to all households so they automatically stock up on duct tape and plastic sheeting. Thank you for shopping at the Homeland Security superstore. Your business is our business

    2. River

      My watch just sent a message that my smartphone has a message for me. If only I had an app that could check my pocket, instead of getting my phone out.

    3. JTMcPhee

      There’s apparently some science that indicates high frequency RF emissions, like what comes from your cell phone and tablet and all those mighty Cell Towers of Babel, might be, er, unhealthy for humans and likely other living things.

      Noooo– say it isn’t so….

    4. Brian M

      God, your vision sounds like total dystopia.

      But you forgot important things. Like sex robots with uploadable fetish software. We don’t have to ever see another human being!

  3. Alex morfesis

    I have absolute trust and faith in supreme court chief justice larry page…his judgments and rulings are all over the internet and are there for everyone to see and most people consider his opinions “factual” and thus “the law”…thankfully the court of public opinion is the only one that counts in bernazistan….

    I am quite confident private industry will use this new wealth of knowledge in the same careful and prudent manner, without any attempts to gain unfair advantage in respect to the citizenry…

    Take a look at how well companies manage credit profiles and credit scores…certainly they do a wonderful job in a difficult environment with respect for the rights of the average person…we obviously have all seen that in the typical ethical undertakings of wells fargo, where without permission the company looked at credit scores and other databases to provide new services the customer needed…

    And allowing private control of this data will not be manipulated or used to give corporations unfair advantage…

    Simply take a look at fannie mae and freddie mac…it is all fair there…
    If a private simple citizen defaults on a loan, they are kept from buying a property again for a period of time to insure they “learned a lesson” and to avoid a “moral hazard”…

    Now, in all fairness…a “moral hazard” only applies to warm bodied carbon based life forms…certainly there is nothing wrong with the fact large
    Corporate borrowers are allowed to quickly borrow from the fannie and freddie taxpayer funded system soon after they default on a loan…since “moral hazard” is only for warm bodied carbon based life forms…

  4. QuarterBack

    I have worked in information technology since the 70’s, and I predict that some very ugly consequences will spawn from the IoT. The vulnerabilities and risks of this technology are rooted in inherent flaws in the architecture of the entire information technology ecosystem.

    The assumptions for how computing devices, components, firmware trust each other are, for practical purposes, unchanged since the ’70s. These miscalibrated assumptions extend (and compound) all the way up the layers of the ISO computing model. Patches are frantically being applied throughout the layers, but only a complete rethinking and redesign of the ecosystem will suffice. This would be perhaps the most complex and expensive challenges in human history, because virtually all physical assets, investments, and business models in place today that rely on the old model will become useless or even dangerous.

    Such an investment and wholesale transformation typically only happen after a catastrophe of epic proportion and undeniable culpability. I fear that time is on the horizon. Cyber criminals have accelerated the ability to weaponize the ever growing inventory of vulnerabilities, and the business sector (with many of the same cyber criminals) have learned to monetize the sale of personal and private data, control of computers and control systems, as well as the blackmail and extortion made possible by these exploits. The final phase of this destructive cycle has been the exploitation of the regulatory and legislative domain. The DMCA serves the purpose to ensure that the power of the greatest exploiters are not infringed, and that they hold the force of law to prevent anyone from reverse engineering their exploits, or pulling or adding any components into their proprietary systems of power.

    When something is weaponized, it becomes dangerous, but when it is monetized, it becomes unstoppable. The die is cast. The technology model as we know it will crash. The question is will we be able to find the next evolution and put it place before society suffers an epic calamity?

    1. JTMcPhee

      Complex question with simple answer: Going by all I know of human culture, history and behavior, NO. EFFING. WAY.

      The Empire and other thingies have created and funded (MMT!) “Cyberwarfare” entities in which the functionaries are just doing what boys (and girls) do — joyfully create and deploy “really cool stuff!” without a thought to consequence and in the impossible delusion that what they are up to will somehow not kill them too. Or maybe somewhere inside the hive mind, “we” the species have finally got around to the apoptotic end of the genetic line.

      Tech says (Elon Musk and the others) “We have the technology to become whatever we want!” Emphasize “want,” Fokk “need,” no pity or mercy for the weak and unteched. The “algorithm” that foments weaponization of everything (remember when the US Army paid money to see if the Frisbee could carry an explosive, since more incoming GIs could toss a frisbee better and farther than a grenade?) is so wonderfully seductive to fokking Generals and all those kiddies raised on computer games… And because the political economy is now hard-wired to dump ever more wealth into the REAL “Game of Risk!” (TM)

      And us fokking hypocrites whine about Russian hyperbaric weapons, while having a nice assortment in our own military supply chain. And on and on, into the Twilight of the Gods and the world of anomie…

    2. John Zelnicker

      @QuarterBack – “The vulnerabilities and risks of this technology are rooted in inherent flaws in the architecture of the entire information technology ecosystem.”

      This is the key. I also have used computers since the ’70’s, although it was only for a couple of years as an IT person. You are absolutely correct. Thank you for explaining the depth of the problem in such a lay-person friendly way.

  5. geoff

    Maybe it’s just my tinfoil hat talking, but this sounds like yet another expansion of the already overarching surveillance state. At best, all the additional data produced by each of our “internet things” will be sold to the highest bidder.

    “Social actors who wish to influence policy debates – think tanks, lobbyists, advocates and campaigners – will have to find new ways to use and explain this data. ” I think it’s highly unlikely that this flood of data will be available to anyone except those collecting it, and those willing to pay for it.

    Have we even had a real debate in this country (U.S.) about Snowden’s NSA revelations? Is anyone talking seriously about the huge amounts of data collected by (just for starters) Google and Facebook? I don’t think “political stakeholders” (let’s say US citizens and their representatives) are going to have much to contribute to the “conversation” about “the transition to a big data society”. We won’t be asked.

  6. Chauncey Gardiner

    … Think I’ll ask Alexa or Siri et al about this.

    Setting aside the insightful concerns expressed by other readers above, ubiquitous surveillance and invasion of privacy in exchange for what?… real time traffic reports and turning your oven on remotely while you’re commuting home from work? IoT and “Big Data” throw the door wide open to social, economic and political control by autocratic personalities, further threats of societal and personal disruptions, and potentially far worse. All paid for by the citizens themselves through their monthly subscription fees, of course.

    Seems to me that public policy makers have again skipped over basic concerns relating to further erosion of privacy and civil rights, and as the author mentioned are instead focused on “Who will own the evidence gathered”.

    Suspect we’ll be hearing more about all the perceived shared benefits of “Public-Private Partnerships” from the controllers real soon. Wonder if you can opt out.

    1. Waldenpond

      The proposal is for there to be no choice. Go no tech (stove top percolator instead of a spying coffee maker) or go without (canned goods and give up the refrigerator) etc. Could try going off grid but if solar systems and turbines don’t currently stalk their users, they soon will.

      This would make some use less energy…. air dry over dryers to avoid state surveillance.

  7. Rhondda

    Like cars that drive themselves, IoT just seems to me like a “solution” looking for a problem or an opportunity to profit looking for fools to fleece.

    Here’s some car hacking entertainment to ‘liven things up’: Shades of Michael Hastings.

    I just think about something small and mundane — my mother testing her blood so she’ll know how much insulin to take to keep herself ‘regular’. If such a device were to become remotely hackable (I believe it already is), a nefarious person could kill or badly harm thousands if not hundreds of thousands of diabetics all in one swoop. Shades of Barnaby Jack’s pacemaker demo.

    1. River

      Or go with low-tech solution. Bribe scientists to convince everyone that fat is evil and sugar is fine and create the diabetics, cardiac cases, etc.

      Totally, off topic but the sugar industry should be giving everyone free healthcare. Doubt we’ll ever know how many problems this caused.

  8. Kevin orville

    We interrupt this broadcast for reality. Trading labor capital for access to debt money is seriously stupid. With the computer industry tracking all transactions, any community that cannot grow its own food, produce its own energy and finish its own goods for trade is trapped in an imploding global company town. Fade electronic control.

  9. Minnie Mouse

    I had a new furnace installed . It came with a new thermostat. The installation tech happened to mention the new thermostat would be WI_FI enabled. I was horrified. I had visions of a hacker in China or Outer Slobovia turning my furnace up to 120F and setting my house on fire. Can this be disabled? No, he said. Thankfully he got a non WI-FI unit out of his truck and installed that.

    The point is this: A thermostat is an industrial control system in miniature. It is not a telephone. It is not a device for Tweeting your friends or posting your ugly face on Facebook. It is a real time hardware control system with a dedicated single purpose. It is not to be interrupted by other goings-on. It is robotic. It needs very minimal interaction with human beings or the outside world to do its job. That is the whole purpose, not to have to stoke the old coal furnace every hour like 100 years ago.

    Now there are industrial processes the require far more precision than my personal home comfort zone, or they might tend to blow things up.
    Nuclear plants, oil refineries, aircraft flight control systems etc. How remote does remote control really need to be? The world wide web? The range of a garage door opener would be sufficient to change my thermostat setting if I did not feel like getting out of bed to do it. It would be very embarrasing if my garage door opener opened my neighbors garage door, so why does China need to access my thermostat? Oh yeah, If it is made in China it may have a Trojan Horse already installed in it anyway.

    If I can solve my personal home critical infrastructure cybersecurity threat by refusing WI-FI on a thermostat, why can’t SCADA systems do the same?

    1. Tom

      I think that you are missing the point — having your thermostat Wi-Fi enabled is a good thing. For example, if the forecast calls for a high temperature of 127 degrees for the next day, your AC unit can start running at full capacity the night before to cope with the projected increase in temperature. That way, we are using technology to solve a problem for you.

      1. human

        I have to ask if this is sarcasm as a high temp of 127F would be fatal to a significant percentage of the population, negating any need for “full capacity” air-conditioning except as necessary to reduce decomposition prior to internment.

        High temperatures do not happen in a vacuum (except in a nuclear exchange), so, my AC would likely already be running, possibly at “full capacity.” My thermostat handles the power requirements as set without further input.

        1. Tom

          Indeed it is sarcasm.

          The point I was making in my round about way was that we have a lot more pressing problems than whether my refrigerator can monitor my milk supply and put in an order if I’m low.

          This whole IoT hoopla reminds me of a stunning short story by Ray Bradbury called, “There Will Come Soft Rains.”

          From Wikipedia:

          Published in 1950, the story begins by introducing the reader to a computer-controlled house that cooks, cleans, and takes care of virtually every need that a well-to-do United States family could be assumed to have. The reader enters the text on the morning of August 4, 2026, and follows the house through some of the daily tasks that it performs as it prepares its inhabitants for a day of work.

          I won’t spoil it by saying anything more, but it’s a truly prescient bit of storytelling.

      2. hunkerdown

        Tom, but what if it’s expected to be 128°F? Will that thermostat suddenly crank on the heat due to signed byte overflow?

  10. JTMcPhee

    Love words with “plusieres entendres,” like “smart,” particularly ones with a core element of cruel ambiguity to them. So,

    Part of Speech: verb
    Definition: hurt, pain
    Synonyms: ache, be painful, bite, burn, prick, prickle, sting, suffer, throb, tingle

    Like “sophisticated,” used to mean spoiled, debased, unauthentic, as in the use of toxic “sugar of lead” to add sweetness to shi77y wine…

    1. human

      democracy (

      [MASS NOUN] A system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives. ‘a system of parliamentary democracy’


      representative government, elective government, constitutional government, popular government
      self-government, government by the people, autonomy
      republic, commonwealth

      The US of A, and soon the world, is only superficially of those things.

  11. human

    Here’s that word “democracy” again …

    Why the hell is an anarchic social system insistently conflated with an hierarchical politico-economic system?

    1. JTMcPhee

      Branding. Works for enough of the “us” in USianland… And elsewhere too. I’m sure there’s some well-studied Bernaysian construct that explains how this part of the decline and fall (while the Insatiable Appetitans feed) can be operated.

  12. Alex

    Amidst all the doom and gloom, I’d just like to point out that the so-called IoT does have potential to actually do good in one regard – energy savings and electrical grid optimization. There is immense waste and inefficient overcapacity in many places in existing energy infrastructure. Having better data and control would go a long way to increasing efficiency and reducing emissions. These devices of course need proper security and regulation, but in my opinion the potential benefits should not be ignored.

    1. human

      Like all those useless, superfluous electrons being pushed around to prettify HTML eMail as opposed to just plain text? There are any number of ways to use less energy. Local generation would reduce transmission costs (presently 2/3rds of my electric bill) and benefit consumers over the unrealized cost benefits of regional producers.

      Regulated interoperability (think Apple) would likely lower the cost footprint of rechargeable devices. Increasing the “safeness” factor as opposed to the “security” factor would encourage commercial establishments to go dark at night, instead of the installation of additional lighting …

      1. Alex

        So you deny there are any potential gains to be made using this type of technology for things like heating, cooling, and lighting? I agree that more local generation is absolutely needed, but as with any problem regarding sustainability, there is never one solution – there are many solutions that must work together to address unique situations. In some cases central generation may actually be better than local.

        I’m not quite getting what your references to email and safeness and lighting have to do with my comment at all. My argument is that some IoT devices may not be pure evil, if properly implemented.

    2. River

      But couldn’t that same be accomplished over a local intranet cut off from the Internet? I doubt a plant supervisor wants to get an auto generated text telling his to fire up his app and turn the widget from A to B at 3:00am. A timing circuit left by itself could do that.

      The IoT just adds needless complexity to already complex systems. That creates more holes to be exploited.

      Meh, I guess it is the ultimate self-licking ice cream cone.

      1. Alex

        Um, I don’t think you really understand how these systems would work. I’ve yet to see any IoT systems that propose having things like utility electricity generation controlled by text messages to plant supervisors. There’s no one down at the coal power plant that looks at a demand gauge and then pushes a giant lever or flips another switch to turn up the power…

        Yes, a local intranet could also be used, but why add yet another network when we already have the Internet? Is the Internet perfect and secure? No. What would make the intranet more so? Can these technologies evolve to address concerns?

        A timing circuit does not respond to real time demand, or learn from historical usage.

        As you say we already have very complex energy systems – they’re too complex for person to really comprehend and control for efficiency purposes. We can however understand them using computers and software, through simulation and analysis using data we have gathered from things like the IoT.

        1. Synoia

          Complex things, systems, have feedback. Non linear feedback is the defining feature of Chaotic systems.

          All feedback is non-linear, typically at the extremes of range. (For example the difference between fear and panic).

          I forecast chaos. Unfortunately, because of limitations in the math, I cannot predict, what, the degree, nor the timing.

          I am not alone in my prediction ability. Ask anyone in finance.

        2. River

          You’re correct, I don’t. Part of my response was snark.

          I do seeing adding the Internet as the unnecessary part. Wouldn’t an intranet already be in place though? If not I have to ask why? I mean if grid security is a concern then isolate it from the Internet, with a few stations that have outside access, but no access to critical systems.

          Then no matter what may or not be embedded in the circuitry from IoT devices, it is rendered useless as it can never reach the outside, but can still be used locally. Can’t hack it if you can’t get to it. Or rather, it is much more difficult.

      2. hunkerdown

        River, the putative value isn’t in timing, but coordination. Alarm clocks don’t have current sensors, so they can’t respond to the availability of low-priced power.

        But neoliberals are not exempt from Conway’s Law. They prefer opportunistic corner-cutting to durability and security, except when it comes to their own place in society.

    3. Waldenpond

      Overcapacity at a power plant versus control at the home level? I’m missing something. How does that tie in to what are basically timers/motion detectors on the home level?

      1. Alex

        Power can be redirected among regions. Understanding how can be the difficult part, which is where devices with sensing connected to a larger system can be useful.

        1. Waldenpond

          Still not getting it, useful to what? We have regional power plant data. We have household data. Why does every coffee maker/dryer/frig/light bulb need to be tracked to know that one regions power plant is under capacity and another regions power plant is over capacity? I always thought distance was the obstacle for under/over capacity. How does it help to manage over/under by tracking individual coffee maker/xbox use.

  13. John

    And in line with the principle of the total crapification of things, I predict that the IoT will work randomly, intermittently and not very well. It will just be another vehicle for skimming and grifting. And those of us who live outside of dense connectivity areas won’t experience it as no corporation will want to connect us. Crapification Trumps Everything.

  14. Hermes

    Wow a utopian fantasy so complete it takes my breath away. Everything changes. It’s all kind of like the French Revolution, only with machines talking to one another instead of heads getting chopped off. I’m so glad these geniuses have the future so well worked out for us. Only since this is the revolution I wonder if they’ll make us use that weird French Republican calendar.

    1. Skip Intro

      But Markets! Disruption!
      I think this was posted as a prank.

      Good one Lambert! Glad to see the commentariat offering no quarter.

  15. hemeantwell

    I’m so glad these geniuses have the future so well worked out for us.

    It’s right to distrust the article for its refusal to take any kind of stand regarding the dilapidated state of democratic institutions and how the IoT might promote further erosion by using more information to further empower corporate or state interests. At the same time, some of the information acquisition and processing capabilities he described would serve to replace market-based resource allocation in a relatively finely-grained way. Instead of the current distorted representations of citizen preferences that parties manufacture to produce fake consensus, we could have something more direct. That the author passes over this possibility and instead talks of “political communicators” and their changing roles makes him sound like he’s writing up something to help Tony Blair stay current.

    1. ChiGal in Carolina

      Seems to me the article is addressing both the potential good and likely bad that this portends.

      This caught my eye:

      by 2020 there will be a black market worth more than $5 billion for fake sensor and video data to enable criminal activity and protect personal privacy

      The bad and good are enabled the same way.

      To me it is all terrifying: the illusion of more control through giving up control.

      In my move my insistence on not using online banking or giving out my cell phone to my home ISP and utilities has made things enormously more complicated. Soon it will be impossible not to bank online.

      1. hunkerdown

        by 2020 there will be a black market worth more than $5 billion for fake sensor and video data to enable criminal activity and protect personal privacy

        Seriously, that was the best news in the article. Guess I’d better get cracking.

    2. George

      The issue is an “absence of entity” problem, perhaps. That is, many such perceived benefits require an independent, benevolent, caring and sharing entity which would: a) exist, and: b) take on the responsibility of fairly managing, via an honest usage of data, such resources for the good of the people, as it were. And also not sell on the data to companies and agencies so that they could manipulate them.

      The reality is that there is no such higher-level entity, and any new entity created would be at the same level as the other participants – with its own interests and relationships, its own need for a “fake consensus”. If even the government is currently in effect a market-level participant (regulations are negotiations, and so on), I don’t see how we can bring into play any other entity to take on a detached role, as would be required.

  16. low

    I typically agree with the commenting population here but all Orwellian fears aside, IoT will open up a new ecosystem of opportunity for innovation. Both in industrial and personal settings, the whole purpose of these devices and sensors are efficiency first and a plethora of other benefits second.

    From a personal perspective, I look forward to IoT streamlining activities I may consider monotonous to free up more time for things I enjoy. One example could be that I am a creature of habit and specifically stock my fridge with 15 essential items. Senors in my fridge let me know that I’m running low on half of them, I have it set so they are automatically re-ordered, and delivered to my house the next day.

    Like any fundamental disruption around data, there is going to be a gauntlet of security concerns and surely people will find less than superfluous reasons to utilize this tech. Alas, I’m hopeful for the new era of innovation this might spur (and hope we can be proactive enough to ensure it is not abused to the Nth degree).

    1. Synoia

      Yes, and your sensors will be telling your health insurance company about your non-healthy diet of 15 things, and adjusting your healthcare premiums automatically.

      (Or course, you being so diligent with your diet, will be part of a tiny minority to have your premiums decrease).

    2. hunkerdown

      low, so how do the rest of us opt out of ever having to deal with you or the machines in which you are apparently invested?

    3. Skip Intro

      How awesome will it be to have each item individually delivered, ‘just In Time’, instead of wasting all the energy required to deliver multiple items at once. How cool will it be when the mid-air delivery drone collisions mix your bleach and ammonia orders, for example!

  17. ewmayer

    “The availability of a wealth of data will offer new raw material for democratically accountable politicians when they are making policy decisions.” — Ha, ‘democratically accountable politicians’ … a species much rarer than the unicorn.

    Similarly, the title would be rendered more realistic via replacement of ‘demo-‘ by ‘klepto-‘.

  18. Russell

    Some great comments.
    More of the same since trains telephones & computers and the internet.
    Industrial is a key word.
    Grid. Banking.
    Some more.
    Tell systems engineering you fix.
    Sell online.

  19. Skip Intro

    You gotta love the condescension dripping off the discussion of ‘democracy’:

    Elected governments could continue to play an active role in the new world of the industrial internet. They would continue to be elected by citizens to decide on common and public goals, but these would eventually be pursued independently by “outcome providers” chosen by the government from a marketplace.

    You could continue to use your quill and inkwell but eventually they will be replaced by a more popular solution from a marketplace.

    This piece is timed well with the case of journalist Brian Krebs, whose stories on internet scammers, botnet ring masters and other unsavories won him a DDoS attack that featured thousands of poorly secured IoT devices:

    Krebs gets hit often, seemingly in retaliation for his reporting. Naturally, the DDoS creeps he outs are most apt to use DDoS to attack his site. For years, he’s relied on pro bono help from Akamai, a company that runs a huge content distribution network that is legendarily hardened against DDoS attacks.

    But last week, Krebs went offline altogether, and Akamai let him know that this time, they couldn’t shield him. The amount of traffic that was coming in was going to cost Akamai millions — it was more than even they could absorb.

    There’s DDoSes and then there’s DDoSes. In Krebs’s case, the attack hit 620 Gbps, the kind of flood that you’d normally find in a state sponsored attack. In this case, the attacker was able to leverage Internet of Things devices with poor security to build the biggest-yet IoT botnet (a growth industry with no end in sight) that slammed Krebs’s network without mercy.

Comments are closed.