Hacking Happiness: Why Your Personal Data Counts and How Tracking It Can Change the World (2015)
THE INTERNET OF THINGS
I believe that the Internet of Things can be that powerful lever to create ground truth with the right data; to engender more trust among people and institutions and to elevate time as the most important outcome of our efforts. [The Internet of Things] will actualize the great synthesis between people and machines; analog and digital; silicon and carbon.1
THERE ARE A LOT of things we don’t see that affect us. If you have a less-than-developed sense of smell, you might not recognize that your idling car is kicking out some noxious fumes that can negatively affect your health. Likewise, you might not realize when a tree in front of your house is producing more oxygen at a certain time of year.
The Internet of Things (IOT), sometimes referred to as the Internet of Everything, refers to technology embedded in objects around us that has become inexpensive and ubiquitous enough to record or broadcast data on a regular or real-time basis. You’re familiar with these technologies in bar codes on the products you buy—these are used in a supply chain process to help the people who make specific items get to where people buy them.
You may have heard of another technology called radio-frequency identification (RFID) that many see as the precursor to the Internet of Things. RFID tags have been used in supply chain logistics for years. Tags emit a low-frequency signal containing information about the contents of a package or other container. This quickly allows a worker with a tag-reader (an electronic wand like you’d see someone using at the supermarket) to scan all the boxes in a truck to know their contents without having to open them up.
The phrase “Connected World” is not just a metaphor. We are becoming more connected to and through the things around us on a daily basis. How we feel about ourselves and other people is deeply affected by how we interact with our surroundings. Now the world around us can more deeply interact with itself with or without our involvement.
Let’s take the tree in front of your house I mentioned. Hearing that it produces more oxygen at certain points of the year may be interesting but not terribly relevant information. But what if you knew that trees also lower cortisol levels, a primary contributor to stress, plus they can remove negative pollution? As reported by Anne Hart in the Examiner article “How Trees Contribute to Health by Producing Oxygen and Lowering Cortisol Levels,” “the urban trees of the Greater London Authority (GLA) area remove somewhere between 850 and 2,000 tons of particulate pollution (PM10) from the air every year.”2 The article goes on to explain how this data may affect urban planning so trees can be planted between highways and nearby schools and homes.
An article from Smithsonian magazine, “Going to the Park May Make Your Life Better” by Sarah Zielinski, describes some more findings from a report by the National Recreation and Park Association relating to trees and health, including the fact that in Los Angeles, people who had more access to parks reported a higher level of trust for people in their community, or that children with attention deficit disorder had better concentration after walking in the park than in an urban setting.3
Why these reports have such impact regarding the Internet of Things has to do with the pragmatic impact data from trees and the environment will have on our lives. In the near future, planting a tree in a low-income area may be a primary tactic to curb violence. Eventually data might show how strategic greenery directly correlates to fewer hospital visits for local residents, lowering health costs. On an individual level, if you suffer from high stress levels according to your wearable device, you may get a text from the tree in your front yard saying, “Come sit by me for ten minutes—your cortisol levels are through the roof!”
It’s this type of deep connectivity that is being empowered by the technologies composing the Internet of Things with what Chris Rezendes, president of INEX Advisors, refers to by his idea of “ground truth.” Objective data from sources we couldn’t unlock in the past will inform and shape our lives in ways not possible before.
In a broad definition of the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine (M2M) technology refers to how devices communicate with one another. Sometimes called peer-to-peer (P2P) networks, these technologies form the backbone for interoperability along the things that surround us in our lives, including our cars and homes. These technologies are also already here—you’ve likely gotten Wi-Fi for your computer using a local area network (LAN), for instance. The combination of these technologies allow for varied applications of IOT that help demonstrate its growing ubiquity.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Vint Cerf, VP and chief Internet evangelist at Google, most widely known for being one of the inventors of the Internet, for my Mashable article “The Im-pending Social Consequences of Augmented Reality.” Regarding the Internet of Things, he noted that the ability to monitor data on a twenty-four-hour basis would greatly help us quantify our understanding of the world. One specific business example he provides, related to wineries, wasn’t included in my Mashable piece, but I wanted to add it here:
With GPS receivers, winery owners are beginning to monitor what nutrients each plant needs to maximize productivity of each wine. Instead of analyzing the average output of a vineyard, owners can measure productivity on a plant-by-plant basis. This helps them maximize their yield or optimize the quality of specific fruits by caring for plants in different ways according to data. This is an example of how computing power, memory, and local miniaturization are enabling things we couldn’t do before.4
Keeping with the wine theme, Cerf went on to describe how apps could start to recognize if our blood alcohol content (BAC) is too high. Embedded with this technology (like the Last Call app that predicts when your BAC will peak), someday our cars won’t start when we turn the key after sensing our inebriated breath and will say, “Had a few too many there, sport—just called you a cab.” According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2010 over 1.4 million drivers were arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol, and intoxicated driving resulted in over ten thousand deaths.5 Uses of technology like this scenario could save lives, lower insurance rates, and allow police officers to spend time on other areas of need rather than on highway patrol—all by utilizing the data created by our interaction with the Internet of Things.
“Dishwashers and X-ray machines. In some shape or form, they’re computers.” M. Mobeen Khan is executive director of Mobility Marketing for AT&T Business and told me the following in our interview for this book:
There is a lot of data in these appliances and machines, data people are not necessarily using. For our work and clients, we want to run the diagnostics of these machines on a common platform where data can be better analyzed. A typical X-ray machine may be used over twenty times in an hour. If I can analyze data about what that machine did over the course of a year, I can get a richer sense of how people are using it to improve future designs of the product.6
Bill Zujewski, CMO and EVP of product strategy for the Axeda Corporation, reveals similar benefits of IOT technology for his clients, something the company calls “connected capabilities.” Like Khan, he notes how dishwashers, outfitted with firmware allowing operating systems to be connected to a manufacturer, could be repaired remotely versus having to be recalled when damaged.
In our interview for this book, Zujewski also likens the evolving world of IOT to the evolution of the app economy:
This is where machines are going. Pretty soon you’re going to get a coffeemaker and wonder why you can’t program it from your phone. The precedent set by Apple and Samsung around apps will spill into our lives regarding our appliances and other machines.7
The app logic will apply to both consumers and the business world, as Zujewski noted with an example from a client, the Getinge Group, an organization focused on providing sterilization and other contamination services. Getinge worked with a hospital client that utilized large commercial dishwashers requiring workers to monitor equipment around the clock. Ninety-nine percent of the time, the washers operated without a problem, but the workers still had to monitor equipment on-site for the one percent of the time a problem could hinder cleaning. Getinge provided an app that could monitor and even restart equipment remotely, allowing workers to go home and spend more time with their families.
Ground truth and smart Internet of Things applications are improving our lives and work.
“If my TV speaks AllJoyn, my washer can tell me when it’s done with a load by sending a message I’ll see on my screen.” Liat Ben-Zur is a senior director of product management at Qualcomm and leads the AllJoyn business, focused on the company’s Internet of Everything software strategy. While many Internet of Things technologies rely on Wi-Fi connectivity, where data is transferred or stored in the cloud, AllJoyn is a proximity-based network—data can privately pass between two devices. Here’s how she explained this in our interview for this book:
As devices and appliances get connected and smart, where does privacy come in? If I have a connected garage-door opener, do I want a manufacturer in the cloud to know every time I’m coming into and out of my home? In the future, people will only offer up their data when someone solves a problem or adds value to their lives. This is one of the main reasons proximity networks offer an untapped resource—people can engage with the world around them without super-private data being exposed.8
H(app)iness in Everything
Technology research company Gartner named the Internet of Things among its Top Ten Strategic Technology Trends for 2013,9 reporting that more than thirty billion objects will be connected by 2020. It’s going to become increasingly difficult to find places that aren’t part of the Connected World.
This means we’re going to have dozens of new ways to measure our emotions and well-being. Even without being an active self-tracker, you may buy a Nest smart thermostat that learns your temperature preferences and makes you happy by lowering utility bills when it turns down the heat by itself when you’re away from home. Or you may get a smart fridge from Samsung that offers recipe suggestions based on the food you have in the freezer. In the future this type of fridge may e-mail FreshDirect once a week, replenishing items set to expire, but only if they synch with your nutrition regimen as recorded on your Weight Watchers app.
Our health and happiness will be even more tied to technology than they are right now. And where we save time or energy utilizing the Internet of Things, we’ll be able to improve our well-being with a record of how we optimized in most every situation.
But ethical and privacy issues will increase as IOT becomes ubiquitous as well. Perhaps boxes in the future will be outfitted with pressure sensor tagging as well as RFID sensors. Designed to analyze how customers open packaging to improve future designs, these test tags may also identify and record the people who smashed boxes with their fists because they couldn’t get them open. This might reflect in an accountability score of some kind that could be reflected in an identity score others could see. That example probably wouldn’t hurt your chance at getting a date, but you wouldn’t get a job at the post office.
Hacking H(app)iness will require balance as we move toward the future. Part of our ground truth will be learning how to stay grounded within the boundaries of these amazing technologies.