Does the Internet of Things have a home in the UK?
There’s no current value in switching on your washing machine, monitoring food levels in your fridge or mapping your drive to work. Just like there never used to be any value in idle chit chat, silly photos or sharing water-cooler gossip about the latest cultural sensation.
But that changed when Facebook made our social lives valuable to advertisers. This was the point when we willingly traded our personal information for a convenient way to keep in touch.
Next stop? The internet of things (IoT): a system that will create value from the information given up by our fridges, cars, house plants and bicycles along with everything else.
IoT can suck previously useless data from everyday objects by communicating autonomously over the internet, sending data from ‘machine to machine’. At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, this has the potential to change the way we live our everyday lives.
China, with its political autonomy and excess cash, is surging ahead in the race to develop an ultra efficient infrastructure based on IoT. The super power is investigating ways of merging all types of embedded intelligence – cloud computing, RFID, wireless sensors – to manage everything from transport to agriculture. Some analysts are predicting that the country is investing an eye-watering $100-billion; the equivalent of 30 times the value of the Internet.
It’s almost inevitable that the West will follow China’s lead. In fact, 30 UK cities are currently competing for a £24-million prize, from the government sponsored Technology Strategy Board, to become theUK’s first fully-fledged ‘smart city’; a super efficient city based on IoT-driven infrastructure integration.
But it’s not just governments that are getting excited about the revolutionary potential of IoT. Brands are also in a quiver. From food brands messaging consumers when their fridges are empty to big name vacuum cleaners ordering their own replacement bags, IoT means brands will soon have access to just about every facet of our daily lives. But how will we feel about this?
Will we say: “no way is anyone getting the data out of my kettle! I don’t care how much money I save, how many free teabags I get, it’s a private thing between me and steamy little companion”? I don’t think so. I, for one, have nothing to hide.
But what of those who do have something to hide? Those hiding a cupboard cannabis plantation, sexually abusing their vacuum cleaners or hacking US military computers to look for evidence of UFOs… will their ‘things‘ grass them up? My guess is that these people will find different ways to conceal what they don’t want people to know; just like we alwayshave, just like we do on Facebook.
New issues are likely to be off-set by new innovations; and may they even present new opportunities. If people know that I’m in my car driving through centralLondon, then they’ll have plenty of time to rob my house. But they’d be foolish to do so because, thanks to IoT, all my worldly goods will be trackable. So I could watch that opportunistic thief abuse my hoover on my iPhone whilst I’m streaming it to bangmyhoover.com to gain some affiliate revenue.
Companies aren’t interested in judging people. They’re interested in creating value. The food I keep in my fridge will show how I look after my children and how much booze I consume on a weekly basis. This is something the supermarkets already know about and can share. But they don’t want to curtail my weekly binge, they’d prefer to use this information to encourage me to buy a nicer bottle of wine and lift the overall spend of my shopping trolly.
So how are brands likely to use this all this data?
My faithful kettle, Mr Steam, breaks down, self analyses and lets me know what part he needs, the price from three retailers and their delivery times, plus the price of replacing him with a new kettle that it knows I’ve looked at three times in the last month on Amazon.
Car brands will promise you the ride of your life, alongside navigation to ensure it isn’t interrupted by traffic. They may also advise you that, whilst you are having the ride of your life, you could be saving money and gaining safety if you drive differently. Perhaps they’ll even send you an offer for some race tires and a nitro-kit.
Clay Shirky pointed out there is a gap between what we currently have and what we really want. IoT will help brands reduce that gap, through data. Data will allow personalisation, provide insight, allow greater service and increase the opportunity to sell against a genuine need.
So will we embrace IoT’s potential to make life easier; or will we reject it as a step too far in invasion of privacy? The most convincing answer is that we will begrudgingly swap our personal data in return for more convenience. Just like we did when Facebook offered to make our social lives easier.
Of course, there will be those who resist. With draconian societies likeChinapushing ahead with IoT, some may question motives – is this move really a way to ease the lives of Chinese citizens or is it a sneaky way to monitor their every move? In this context, IoT could be seen as evil. But just like guns and religion, IoT doesn’t control people; people do.
Given that facial recognition cameras are already deployed in public across theUK, we’re not really going to stop privacy being eroded. So we might as well enjoy the benefits of the internet of things.
Ronnie Crosbie, planning director at social agency Outside Line.