A future with and without IoT

Recently, technologists, as well as pop culture, have been obsessed with the widespread use of the Internet of Things – anything connected to the Internet. Much of the hype is rooted in data collection and communication, but it has since transcended and crossed into consumer lifestyle. [1] Proponents of the widespread use of IoT highlight the technological leverage that smart devices offer, while opponents believe that it will be the demise of humanity, where intelligent machines could distract us from the real world.

From smart brushes that “rate grooming habits,” smart saltshakers, AI trash bins, to toasters that can text, there are definitely IoT products that absolutely add no benefit. [2] But many other IoT applications are useful to both an individual day-to-day life and economies as a whole. Professor Detlef Zuhlke, who was a director at the German Research Centre for Artificial Intelligence, and his team have been working on creating a standard for smart factories – “an IoT for manufacturing.” [3] Zuhlke believes that smart factories will be the start of a fourth industrial revolution. Modules that perform different tasks that can be done in different orders while communicating with one another run the smart factory. New modules can be added to the system as easy as, according to Zuhlke, playing with Lego. Zuhlke sees that smart factories will make manufacturing in high-wage countries, like Germany, affordable and hence a “major threat” to China; smart factories will make manufacturing more flexible and accessible to troubled economies.

In contrary, Robert Harrison, professor of Literature at Stanford, opposes the idea of having IoT everywhere, believing that a future too heavily dependent on technology is not necessarily a progressive one. He argues that today’s Internet of Things technologies that enable interconnectedness online are spoiling the true essence of being human and hence spoiling the true essence of progress – that is, to live in better conditions. [4] Professor Harrison raises valid and valuable insights to the conversation as he questions the actual benefit of technologies that tech companies are branding as “changing the world.” For instance, in a somewhat dystopian lens, he views that the constant products tech companies are marketing will inevitably become “our only access to reality.” Certainly, a world where a few tech companies control our reality is a dystopian world that restricts our freedom of experience and thus our freedom of being sentient, conscious beings.

As both sides of the argument imagine a world that is strongly influenced by the use of IoT, both visions appear quite far-fetched, for now. The ramifications of the exponential application of IoT in the future are likely not as consequential as argued. It seems unlikely that IoT will offer revolutionary changes to the human experience. It will undoubtedly make many of our tasks easier, transportation faster, communication wider, and living conditions better. However, we would be more than content to compromise IoT for either the fear of a dystopian future or simply because we desired to do so – we are arguably already living in a technologically sufficient world. That is not to say we cannot improve or that our world is perfect, but it seems that most of our problems have to do with the access to and application of technology around the world, not the current state of technology.

At the same time, it is unlikely that IoT can fully limit our experience of reality because it offers a different approach to experiencing reality. If people are satisfied with smart devices and online-heavy experiences, then there is no need to lament about a past that offered a different approach to experiencing reality. Nevertheless, there is no question that sometimes the tech industry brands unworthy technologies as revolutionary or life changing. The tech industry is in no way always supporting meaningful technological advancement, but it in no means has to do so as we are not in any urgent need to progress technologically. Instead, we need to work on a way to make technology accessible to more people around the world.


[1] Matt Burgess, “What is The Internet of Things? WIRED explains” on WIRED.


[2] Matt Reynolds, “Six internet of things devices that really shouldn’t exist,” on WIRED.


[3] James Temperton, “A ‘fourth industrial revolution’ is about to begin (in Germany)”, on WIRED.


[4] Robert Harrison, “The Children of Silicon Valley,” on NYR Daily.




One comment on “A future with and without IoT”

  1. I do like your idea about the altitudes towards the influence of new technology on human life. Yes, what really matters is the problem of accessibility. Though nowadays the term of loT is very popular, which even leads to worries of overusing, the application of loT is still limited and immature, covering very small scopes in our daily life. We should try as hard as possible to promote its application, especially in the current stage, rather than set barriers in people’s cognition of new technology.


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