June 6, 2017

The Internet of Things Connectivity Binge: What Are the Implications?

Theme 2: Unplugging isn’t easy now, and by 2026 it will be even tougher

Another significant group of these experts made the case that people will adopt products and services tied to the Internet of Things because it is their best life choice and at times their only choice. They believe that opting out will not be an option in many situations, for example, in daily work and health care settings. A share of these respondents noted that as businesses, governments and other organizations begin to reap benefits from the IoT, people will be rewarded for their use and suffer consequences for nonparticipation. Even if there were no such carrot-stick motivations, network effects would leave the unconnected at a disadvantage. An anonymous respondent commented, “Disconnection and remaining in society are mutually incompatible.”

Resistance is futile: Businesses will penalize those who disconnect; social processes reward those who connect. Fully withdrawing is extremely difficult, maybe impossible

Some respondents said IoT businesses will make it increasingly difficult if not impossible for people to be able to opt out of the IoT-based services, platforms and knowledge-sharing resources and still have access to resources they desire or require. The drive to continuously increase the user base by making it “sticky” and buying out or crushing competitors who might offer more choices is a standard characteristic of today’s most successful digital business platforms.

Being connected is becoming less and less of a choice, so even if someone wanted to disconnect, they would not realistically be able to.
Christopher Owens

Mary K. Pratt, a freelance technology journalist, commented, “Even if individuals are concerned about the risks, they’ll find it difficult or impossible to opt out of these connections if they want to continue with the products or services they want and/or need.”

Various anonymous respondents made these related remarks:

  • “If there is money to be made, industry will push it, regardless of the inherent risks.”
  • “It is not really up to the people.”
  • “More people will just click the box, opting for convenience over security and privacy.”
  • “New devices will be IoT by definition so it will be hard to get ‘offline.’ ”

Eugene H. Spafford, a professor at Purdue University and an expert in computer security issues, wrote, “It appears that vendors do not appreciate the dangers involved in IoT, and offerings that don’t incorporate connectivity are increasingly rare. … IoT is being pushed as the norm, and the majority of people do not seem to be aware of the hazards, so they are thus driving the market in that direction.”

An anonymous senior software engineer at Microsoft wrote, “Societal norms will dictate to connect. Products will dictate to connect. Entertainment needs will require connection.”

An anonymous respondent observed, “There will be no option but to do so as companies can extract subscription fees for use of connected devices. More items will require connectivity and hence more sharing of personal data by users. Companies are monetizing more thanks to the Internet of Things.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “I don’t feel you will be able to disconnect. More systems will come online that require you to opt in to connectivity to achieve service. Example: Progressive Insurance’s Snapshot dongle to record your car’s performance and data-mine for driving behaviors and accidents. Currently this program is voluntary, but how easy would it be to require all drivers to be monitored for coverage? This will become the norm and will proliferate throughout our daily life.”

Another anonymous respondent said, “The question is posed as if there is meaningful choice. There is not. Are you really going to opt out of that implanted heart device out of concerns for malware? I don’t remember where technologies that increase surveillance and decrease the value of labor have failed in the marketplace. That’s not end-user demand, that’s the inhumanity of capitalism.”

Antero Garcia, assistant professor at Colorado State University, wrote, “The grip of capitalist ecosystems – Apple, Google, Facebook, etc. – is strengthening the ability to connect multiple aspects of our lives online. It will be harder to disentangle from this system moving forward.”

Respondents in this study generally say it is already difficult and it will become increasingly more difficult to find unconnected platforms, services and products and avoid participating in a connected world. These experts argue that unplugging invites loneliness and a substandard life. Most believe it is not a realistic option for most people. Dave McAllister, director at Philosophy Talk, said, “Those who disconnect will end up as a class with diminishing resources. Information is king, and connectivity will power that.”

Christopher Owens, an adjunct professor at Columbus State Community College in Ohio, said, “Being connected is becoming less and less of a choice, so even if someone wanted to disconnect, they would not realistically be able to, any more than people 20 years ago could stop driving, using the telephone or having a bank account. Too much of modern life is dependent on having near-constant internet access.”

An anonymous associate professor at a state university wrote, “Most people will move more deeply into connected life because they will face significant penalties to social capital, accessibility of goods and services, and work opportunities if they do not. … The vulnerabilities created by interconnected devices are very real, and will disproportionately impact the most marginalized.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “The fear of missing out will win out over concerns of potential security threats. Systems will reinforce this, compelling people to maintain digital connection. Kind of like how often Social Security numbers are required to get a thing done. It’s not secure, and they shouldn’t be required, but it has become requisite to use them in order to access many services.”

Ryan Hayes, owner of Fit to Tweet, commented, “The divide in capabilities between the most-connected and the least will define who gets the valuable jobs. Technology should be making life better too, not just more productive, so disconnecting will be opting out from those benefits; it will sabotage their abilities to get more out of life, like someone deciding not to learn how to read because they’re afraid they’ll read something dangerous to them.”

David Banks, co-editor of Cyborgology, said, “Disconnection from networks of capital and information generally come at a high price for individuals and even entire communities. As more parts of our lives become connected to the IoT it seems likely that disconnection will become a privilege to those that can afford to, for example, forgo the savings on car insurance that come with agreeing to be tracked.”

An anonymous chief marketing officer replied, “Breaches and security concerns may likely grow and they may create sensational headlines and a high-profile disconnectors movement, but the proliferation of connected and networked devices will become so critical to our lives that those who choose to disconnect will be considered the fringe, akin to those who shunned electricity and automobiles in the 20th century.”

Joe Mandese, editor-in-chief of MediaPost, said, “People will become more dependent on technology for accessing data and connecting with other people and other things, despite nefarious practices by hackers.”

An anonymous professor observed, “Technological advances are simply making life’s most boring aspects more efficient and easier to complete. At the same time, people’s jobs demand increasingly more time and effort. As a result, the efficiencies produced by technology (say in banking or home security or shopping) become necessary instead of remaining as luxuries. No one can not use online services any more. At the same time (and not unrelated to the increased requirement for work hours), businesses are reducing the number of people who work for them and who are able to assist customers in person. As a result, whether people are skeptical or not, they will be forced to conduct their business online and to include other connected services in their daily lives.”

There is no opt-out for the internet. No one can disconnect.
David Krieger

An anonymous respondent commented, “Disconnecting will take time and energy. Most will not [make the effort to disengage]. The outliers and anarchists will revel in it.”

An anonymous professor of digital media at an Australian university said, “The choice to disconnect will be a hipster privilege. Most people’s lives will become increasingly entangled with internet connectivity, although much of the seamless interoperability and user benefit will be glitchy, full of security errors and underused by consumers.”

Will Kent, an e-resources librarian at Loyola University-Chicago, replied, “People won’t have the choice to disconnect. Take applying for jobs as an example. It is nearly impossible to apply for a job without a computer or email. Soon it will be that way for housing and for all communication and appliances.”

David Krieger, director of the Institute for Communication & Leadership, based in Switzerland, commented, “There is no opt-out for the internet. No one can disconnect. Algorithmic automation will create overly complex systems of communication, transportation, energy, finances, production, etc., that are no longer under control of anyone.”

An anonymous assistant professor at a public research university said, “People will dive more deeply because they will have to. Institutions will effectively offer no viable alternative to cloudware systems for medical treatment and information access.”

Dmitry Strakovsky, a professor of art at the University of Kentucky, said, “Most people are waaaay too comfortable with easy-to-use mobile systems to forgo the experience of the connected world. Security will be an increasing concern but it will not deter any serious number of consumers. We will simply move deeper into biometrics land. The bigger issue is going to be further down the line when we finally have access to quantum computing and no encryption will be enough. Then we are in trouble.”

Jon Hudson, futurist and principal engineer, wrote, “The sad thing is, you won’t have a choice. Disconnecting will not only hurt you and your earning capabilities, but also those of your children and anyone else living in your house. We all must get more and more connected if we want to see where this is going and reach that next level. Whatever it is.”

John Bell, software developer, data artist and teacher at Dartmouth College, wrote, “More people will become more connected, but largely because individuals won’t have any choice but to participate in connected technologies due to market forces that encourage centralization and constant connection. This will continue until there is a global security event that causes governments to intervene, like a war where infrastructure technology is targeted. Technologists could solve this problem by, for example, using completely different networking protocols for IoT devices than are used on the commercial internet. Another possibility would be engineering home-automation servers that only operate locally. However, there is not enough awareness of or concern about the potential security problems of always-on cloud services to force companies to develop local solutions when there are vast economic benefits for those companies to make sure devices must be connected to their services.”

Mary Griffiths, associate professor in media at the University of Adelaide, South Australia, wrote, “Smart cities are already developing across the world with responsive street lighting, traffic lights, and immersive civic spaces. The benefits can include better air monitoring; smoother traffic flows; faster ambulance and police response times; and municipal planning more finely attuned to a population’s needs. Those who are not ‘connected’ may be excluded from full participation in such cities. If they don’t provide the information the city functions on, their needs can’t be part of planning based on predictive trends.”

Some respondents clearly noted that while most people will continue to become more connected in the future, they will – at least at times – strongly resent it. An anonymous user experience manager observed, “We’ll probably be pulled in, like it or not. One won’t be able to buy anything other than the proverbial internet-ready toaster, for example. Connectivity will be standard, not an upgrade, like it or not. I don’t think this will happen easily, though. There will be tons of stuff that falls off the hype curve, and consumers will be angry about being forced into the new paradigm in some cases.”

An anonymous engineer at a major U.S. government technology agency wrote, “People will move to a more connected life because they will not be allowed any other choice. It takes a fairly deep education and strength of will to constantly check each new item or service for loopholes and pitfalls. It also will get easier for bad actors to hack even those with good security. Driverless cars will be hacked (btdt – been there, done that), tea kettles will leave your network vulnerable (btdt), governments will keep knowledge of zero-day exploits to themselves and let the citizens suffer (btdt), and we will mostly sleep through it all. If we could stop feeling everything needs to be connected all the time, we’d have a chance. It’s unlikely without a drastic change though.”

An anonymous professor of media production and theory observed, “Disconnection is less and less of an option. In general, participation in the internet, whether of things or cerebra, offers so much we’ll continue to do it, even though it also has complex and poorly understood effects on our physiologies, social relations, emotional development, etc. This is a vast new field of research not well-studied.”

Frank Elavsky, data and policy analyst at Acumen LLC, commented, “The greatest security threats to those who participate in systems of connectivity have never outweighed the potential benefits of that connectivity. Of course, hacking will be a greater threat. But I believe that the threat will be so nominal that only those too fearful to continue in the connectivity will be the real victims of the system.”

Vance S. Martin, instructional designer at Parkland College, observed, “If you build it, they will buy it. I am supposed to take my blood pressure every morning and email results to my doctor every few months. Wouldn’t it be easier to take my blood pressure and have it automatically sent to him? That would save me 10 minutes a month. Don’t we want a TV or device we can tell to find and play ‘Die Hard,’ or to load ‘Fallout 4’? Isn’t it great to have a button on your washer that you can just push to fill an Amazon order for soap? If all of these things had appeared at once, we might be put off. But with slow release and the allure of the newest, time-saving device, and the fact they become cheaper and cheaper, we will have them in our homes. If you want a refrigerator that doesn’t take a picture, inventory the contents and order refills, you’ll have to start buying old appliances and refurbishing them, which some will do. But who is going to remember to safeguard your blood pressure monitor or the Tide button that is hooked up to Amazon? Your cellphone, your computer, your TV may be kept secure, but not the rest. And with that will come back doors for hackers to shut down your furnace, get your account information and hold your digital photo albums hostage. This will not cause us to disconnect; it would be too difficult. It will lead to a reactive stance rather than a proactive stance for most American and global consumers.”

You can’t avoid using something you can’t discern. So much of the Internet of Things operates out of sight that people will not be able to unplug completely

In addition, some respondents pointed out that people are already unknowingly participating in beneficial yet vulnerable interconnected systems, many of which are embedded in processes and services in which they are not clearly visible. Unless one goes completely off the grid and remains pretty much rooted in a remote area, not visible by satellite or drone, living by one’s own means, a full disconnection is highly unlikely.

I don’t think that the decision can be made to disconnect.
Anonymous open source technologist

An anonymous vice president of global engagement replied, “Much of the deeper dive into connected life will be unconscious, as people forget that internet connectivity is what enables many of the conveniences they rely on. Like electricity, connectivity will be taken for granted.” And an anonymous respondent observed, “Really what you will have is not disconnection but anthropic connection as disconnection, or ignorance of their connection.”

Barry Chudakov, founder and principal at Sertain Research and StreamFuzion Corp., wrote, “We [have] hidden connecting IoT processes to make them more efficient, we now have to … shine light on that process stream in order to create awareness of what we have done and understand the implications of all that connectivity. … The more things we build with embodied (hidden) intelligence, the more we are challenged to match or understand that intelligence – or perhaps outwit it – if we have a different outcome in mind. If your smart car wants to drive you to the hardware store and you want to go visit your sister, there’s a clash of intentions. The obvious answer to that is the ability to override the object’s intentions. But what if you can’t? Or don’t know how? Or what if you don’t even realize the intention until you see the effects of the intention? For example, [what if] you don’t know that the algorithm programmed to stop steep market decline could, in fact, precipitate a further decline?”

Louisa Heinrich, founder at Superhuman Limited, replied, “People will certainly move more deeply into connected life, and not necessarily by choice. Cities are embedding technology, as are manufacturers of consumer goods. We will be surrounded by technology more or less all the time, and it will certainly shape our experience of the world, but we may not be able to interact with the technology on any meaningful level because it isn’t owned by us.”

An anonymous open source technologist commented, “I don’t think that the decision can be made to disconnect. Modern cars are already software-driven whether you like that or not. Same is true for planes. That this becomes the case for everything else is certain, and what is less certain [is] if anyone can opt out or even understand the extent of connectedness in this generation of electronics or the next.”

Lauren Wagner, a participant who shared no additional identifying details, said, “When the default is for a manufacturer to produce a connected device, consumers may not even realize what their products are connected to and how this makes them vulnerable to security breaches. When things are networked, I am most concerned about connected devices failing in real time – like self-driving cars and connected medical devices – where the cost is human life.”

An anonymous senior software developer wrote, “A significant number of exploits have not stopped people up until now, so why should it in the next 10 years? It is true; there will be problems. We will have a mass car-hack incident where thousands of cars will be hacked simultaneously and caused to crash. But in the end it will not stop progress. Companies will just be forced to take security more seriously.”

An anonymous respondent replied, “The fact is that we remain as ignorant as ever about basic security, granting ‘Pokemon Go’ full access to your entire Google account, or believing that posting on Facebook ‘I do not give permission to Facebook’ is somehow an efficacious legal strategy. I don’t see people learning from anything soon. The advantages and integral part the internet plays in our lives – especially for those who grew up with it – will outweigh the fears and risks.”

Scott Fahlman, a computer science and artificial intelligence research professor at Carnegie Mellon University, responded, “People may be shocked by some invasions and decide to forgo those things, while they don’t notice themselves being engulfed by others. … We have to understand the specific threats and develop some social awareness and social consensus about how to deal with them.”

Aj Reznor, vulnerability and network researcher at a Fortune 500 company, commented, “More people will connect, but a large portion of that may be unintentional, via devices that self-configure and phone home automagically. A consumer will likely only be concerned about a security risk if a close associate (family, coworker) is affected. Otherwise the old ‘Why would someone want to hack me or my thermostat? What’s in it for them?’ mentality is likely to prevail.”

Uta Russmann, communications professor at the FHWien University of Applied Sciences of WKW in Vienna, replied, “The majority of people do not understand the Internet of Things and what comes with it for them (data collection, etc.), but they see the amenities to be greater than inconveniences, so they will move more deeply into connected life. The physical damage to ‘Joe Sixpack’ will be very small; she/he will be primarily affected by it as all her/his data is stealthily used for marketing purposes (most people won’t even realize this). I am more concerned about the general human damage: What about ethical aspects? Will there be enough people to question the doings of corporations, governments, etc.? (The fewer people who understand it all, the fewer who are in charge of the many.)”