[Iot] Personal notes from IoT Philosophy in York

From: Rob van Kranenburg - Date: Thu, 10 Jul 2014 13:35:33 +0200

Personal notes from IoT Philosophy in York
Conference on the Internet of Things, York St. John University, 3rd – 5th July

As I started to write this from the notes I took it turned more into a reflection on my own journey of the past ten years.

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For me the Conference started with the conversations I had with Joachim Walewski in IoT-A (iot-a.eu) where I was Stakeholder Coordinator and he was in the technical work packages for Siemens. We realized that our conversations turned strategic but that at projectlevel there was no way into the actual work packages where high level discussions beyond the known notions of privacy, security, identity, disruption, could take place. If however at such abstract level as IoT-A the debate on what it means to be human in IoT could have no logical place, that means that the most far out EU R1D of 18 million euro project was not able to harness these type of discussions. If not at IoT-A level then certainly not at the level of smart city projects that are instrumental and focused on legacy research. And even these EU projects do not necessarily reach the actual business units and implementation. Most of the time the results remain paper and slide ware in research, although especially in recent years the focus has been on demo’s and prototyping. 

With Horizon 2010 however all is on impact, impact and impact and actual added value in services and applications, and hopefully in value created in infrastructure as Brett Frischman argues. It is interesting to see that companies that are not on the stock market and still privately held or foundation based like Grundfos (Gatesense.com) and Bosch (Stefan Ferber’s unit) have been early in setting up IoT units, based on some strategic, long term thinking, see also http://2renaissance.org/about-us/, but from companies who are on the stock market quarterly results still dominate real world action for short term results.

Justin McKeown had written:
The potential offered by the technology underpinning the Internet of Things is extreme and, as with all extremes, opinion on its deployment is widely divided. At the root of these divisions are issues of ethics and agency with those on either side of the divide perceiving the challenges enmeshed in the technology to be the key to man’s emancipation or total enslavement. While some are preoccupied with such techno-utopian dreams  (or nightmares) of augmented life I cannot help but feel that – if we are to become Übermensch rather than letzte Mensch - before we step off down the road towards the post-human we're all going to have to learn to become fully human first. To be clear: We will have to become cognizant of our humanity and take on all the responsibilities that come with it. This will require serious consideration of all our ugliness as much as all our beauty."

Which put together made a good case to start organizing a seminar/conference that would bring together people who were able to reflect on all particular issues and the major ontological shift that IoT entails and attempt to embark on a course that will eventually lead to actionables for IoT industry and policy.

I had started out about ten years ago to write myself some agency in four texts that I published in Noema. I then talked about ubicomp and ambient intelligence, as we know IoT is simple an umbrella winning term for a cybernetics that has been thought about for quite some time, from techie as a thread in philosophies of action to the more concrete iterations of pervasive computing, ubicomp, disappearing computer, calm computing, ambient intelligence and things that think:

„For how hard it is to write about a world becoming strange, or new, or spooky, after the dotcom crash, after the high hopes of increasing productivity through IT, of readers and writers becoming wreaders, of liberty finally around the corner: a product to be played out in all kinds of gender, racial and cultural roles, a process to drive decision-making transparency in both offline and online processes. Only to have woken up to the actual realization of a highly synergized performance of search engines and backend database driven visual interfaces. Postmodern theory, open source coding and multimedia channeling promised the production of a new, hybrid space, only to deliver the content convergence of media channels. And yet, I claim that we are in the progress of witnessing the realization of such a new space. In places where computational processes disappear into the background - into everyday objects - both my reality and me as subject become contested in concrete daily situations and activities.” http://org.noemalab.eu/sections/ideas/ideas_35.html

„All I have to do now is the following. I can not quite put it into adequate terms and I therefore hesitate. I do check my lines regularly for lines that make no sense even in those regions where we need to make no sense for a while in the registers that do make sense so. It has to do with my ability to visualise a setting in which people resonate with media through simulating processes. Simulating processes that are actual processes, for in a digitised real, any process might become experiential, might resonate. In the philosophy of Aristoteles there are three domains of knowledge with three corresponding states of knowing; Theoria, Techné and Praxis. Theoria with its domain of knowledge epistéme, is for the Greek gods, mortals can never reach this state of knowing. But they can strive for it. In Theoria and epistéme we recognize our concepts theory and epistemology.” http://org.noemalab.eu/sections/ideas/ideas_35.html

„In such a mediated environment – where everything is connected to everything - it is no longer clear what is being mediated, and what mediates. Design decisions become process decisions in a mediatized environment. Such environments - your kitchen, your living-room, our shopping malls, the streets of old villages, websites, schools, p2p networks, are new beginnings as they reformulate our sense of ourselves in places in spaces in time.” http://org.noemalab.eu/sections/ideas/ideas_articles/kranenburg_rules_of_innova.html

I went on to investigate what agency means in the space of flows and how to get agency in steering developments in IoT, as it became quickly clear that there was no way to oppose IoT or bypass it. It can sonly be taken over and steered.  One of the key questions that guided me was

„When the environment becomes the interface: from content to context-management. What is it? How good are we at managing contexts?”

This was one of the key arguments to led me to found Council in 2009 ands start in Brussels with the broadest variety of stakeholders. (http://www.theinternetofthings.eu/content/council-launches-brussel-blogs-reports-and-videoclips)
The main reason was to build a space where all output from all stakeholders could be found in one place with not one perspective being the ‚other’. 

All current computing paradigms put connectivity and content centric networking central: Internet of Things, Pervasive Computing, Ubicomp, Ambient Intelligence; the environment becomes the interface. The connectivity will be an ecology of RFID, active sensors, biometrically related smart camera data, 2D and 3D barcodes and 6LoWPAN: IPv6 over Low-Power wireless Area Networks Monitoring mechanisms will be build into devices themselves: “if a guest is charging their electric car at a friends house, we should consider applications that will understand that the charge should appear on the guests electric bill and not that of the friend."  

Futurists are able to accept massive to substantial change at one level while keeping others constant. The discrepancy between what will be the change and what will remain constant thus seems to be only partly due to discerning data from noise, as it is a recurring issue in all predictions of the future.

This is currently stalling the necessary investments and management change that is needed. It is difficult for engineers to understand the full implications of connecting products and services to explain to management and board that there is no more need to be that particular brand, to be so big, to have so many people on the payroll, to start learning the language of end users. 

To be sure, Rudolf Arnheim claims in Thoughts on Art Education, “computations such as those performed by electronic devices do not need to do their own perceiving. They produce mere combinations of items, to which meaning is attributed from the outside. A computation mechanism cannot tell the difference between airplane reservations, chess games, or medical diagnosis. Thought processes worthy of the name go beyond mere computation. Inevitably, they rely on imagery, especially on vision.” (Occasional Paper 2., The J.P. Getty Trust, Los Angeles, 1989, p. 16)

At which point Internet of Things begins to make sense. Far from being a philosopher, I have always been troubled reading Heideggers last line in Sein und Zeit: We can not do anything, we can only wait.”  I always took that as some personal insult, never fully understanding why. It seems we have done waiting. We have reached the point where the quest to individuate every item (including people, and locations) has become a mundane reality. Yet far from being a negative situation or a drawback of our original agency, neither being an enslavement, this is the point where we realize as humanity that we are ‘on our way’, that we are giving up voluntarily our primacy as species on planet earth, no reluctance there, no a lustful longing for more connectivity, more data, more support from our other friends, other resources.

In a mediated environment – where everything is connected to everything - it is no longer clear what is being mediated, and what mediates. In IoT buildings, cars, items, animals, plants and people can be defined as information spaces. What is the autonomy of the individual in such an environment? It has autonomies, not autonomy. It acquires privacies, not privacy.

The Internet of Things is a combination of a technological push - an ecology of barcodes, qr codes, rfid, active sensors, ipv6 - and a human pull for more and ever growing connectivity with anything happening in the immediate and further out environment, a logical extension of the computing power in a single machine to the environment; the environment as interface (see also ubicomp, pervasive computing, and Mark Weiser’s text The Computer for the 21th Century of 1991.)

This push-pull combination makes it very strong, unstoppable, fast and extremely disruptive. 

We can neither throw up our hands in the face of the problems brought on by technology, nor, as Heidegger writes, can we a "rebel helplessly against it and curse it as the work of the devil" (307).

If we want to define power to its core, we can say that it is the self-assigned agency of states to assign numbers to people (legal-illegal), and the self-assigned agency of companies to isolate data in IP, copyright and patents (legal-illegal). They are wed together. Without the first the latter has no capability to enforce any laws. Without the second, the first has no capacity to ensure that citizens start not to question why they should keep paying taxes, as some level of convenience is provided. 

The Internet brought this wedding into question as the only possibility to posit as a foundation for everyday life and praxis. It revealed how much legacy is actually still in this combination build on violence, isolation of data and (preferably phrased as ‘healthy’) competition. A quick look at the top 100 companies before and after the Internet shows how disruptive the Internet is.

The Internet of Things will break them. It will force a divorce. This divorce can be brutal or friendly.

In our architectures we are used to dealing with three groups of actors: 


These all are characterized by certain qualities, 'a' for citizens, 'e' for industry, and 'o' for governance. In our current (Reference) Models and  (Reference) Architectures we build from and with these actors as entities in mind. The data flow of IoT will engender new entities consisting of different qualities taken from the former three groups. 

IoT means full traceability, not one thing is not monitored or out of sight. All and everyone are in full light. There will be no more 'users' who need to secure 'privacy' as the concept of privacy has to be distributed over the qualities of the new actors. There will be cookies in the table you put your cup on and no, you don’t want to be notified how long this table will store that you had an espresso there. 

In this new conceptual space we have build notions of privacy, security, assets, risks and threats. 

No one is making money with Internet of Things at the moment beyond the first waves of low hanging fruit: optimizing, even more efficiency, monitoring tools even before potential wear shows….

There is a clear deadlock. Clients do not know what they can expect, nor do they know what they could ask. The M2M vendors can not interface their sensor capabilities beyond optimizing. No one is asking for an Internet of Things. Citizens have no clue as to what they can expect, and why they should hand over their washing machines to a local grid to ensure energy efficiency.  Is there a positive story possible?

Internet of Things is in its essence the seamless flow between the 

BAN (body area network): the ambient hearing aide, the smart t-shirts...
LAN (local area network): the smart meter as a home interface 
WAN (wide area network): the bike, car, train, bus, drone…. 
VWAN (very wide area network) : the ‘wise’ city as e-gov services everywhere no longer tied to physical locations

Whoever ensures traceability, sustainability and security linking up the gateways is de facto and de jure the new power.

And would I want such a flow? Why not?

The best possible feedback on my physical and mental health, the best possible deals based on real time monitoring for resource allocation, the best possible decision making based on real time data and information from open sources and the best possible alignments of my local providers with the global potential of wider communities.

I’m confident that this will be build, and in fact a lot of the building blocks are already there. What we need now is to align all the open movements: access, data, information, software, OS, hardware, infrastructure – to start working on a coherent pragmatic philosophy of action, scenarios and stories fully focused on these new entities. Open can be that new power, but it will not be handed over. It will have to be fought. 

If the modern world that can be characterized by the increasing ability of men to master the environment with tools leads to an decrease in psychological wellbeing as it caters only to ‘convenience’, not to ‘excitement through discovery’ or ‘excitement through satisfying curiosity’ (and…), then IoT and the smart city as the epiphany of IoT will lead to more and perhaps even a dramatic rise in mental illness – fragmentation on agency and capability of individual human beings, as the smart city is a) a place where all potential interaction with the system as a whole has been made invisible-seamless, and b) all things in the immediate vicinity are controlling, updating and eventually power scavenging themselves and no longer in need of ‘supervision’.

The more successful IoT then is as the seamless interaction between data coming from the body (BAN), the home (LAN), the car (WAN) and the smart city (as ‘services everywhere: a passport at the supermarket)  the more fragmentation we can predict in individual agency of human beings in a way that hitherto has been regarded as ‘normal’, ‘rational’ and ‘sane’.

It looks then as if we do not really have a choice. Either we continue to create more and stronger forms of mental disintegration by counting only on ‘ourselves’ to keep making ‘sense’, or we allow for other intelligences to support us in the real digitally enhanced hybrid territory we have embedded ourselves in. Three particular kinds then are foregrounded:

1. animal support systems: Further investigation is needed into Rupert Sheldrake’s morphic fields that “continue to link members of the social group together even when they are far apart, beyond the range of sensory communication, and can serve as a medium through which telepathic communications can pass.” They “may also underlie the sense of direction. Animals are not only linked to members of their social group by morphic fields, but also to significant places, such as their home. These fields continue to connect them to their home even when they are far away, rather like invisible elastic bands. These bonds can consequently give directional information, “pulling” the animal in a homewards direction.” 

2. computer support systems: This basically is our IoT territory. At a speech to the Pittsburgh Technology Council in 2009, Google’s CEO, Eric Schmidt focused on the negative effects on innovation and integration of (what he called) institutional fragmentation and wondered if governments - and the very process of policy and policymaking itself - could not benefit from the iterative cycles of measuring success and failure that characterize the engineering and design prototyping cycles. He argued that with this amount of real-time tracking, aggregated data and information - not heuristics, governing itself could benefit. In essence, particular laws can be effective for three months and evaluated, adjusted and on the basis of real data - not estimates, adjusted again. It is this process that can lead to combinatorial innovation and system Innovation. 

3. new entities: What kind of capabilities and aspirations will these new entities possess? Will they look like ours because we conceived of them? Will they have a need to control, tell other resources (us, for example) what to do? Clearly in the intuitive public eye it is precisely the fear for this ‘rise’ of the machines that testifies to the idea that they will look like ‘us’. There are very few popular fantasies pointing to a peaceful and networked organization between these different types of intelligences, yet on which basis is there any reason to conclude that this might not be the case?

It is especially on this last point that the Conference was very successful for me. About ten to fifteen years ago I realized that the real ontological change with IoT was this: „Buildings, cars, consumer products, and people become information spaces by transmitting all kinds of data through Radio Frequency Tags that are rapidly replacing the barcode. We are entering a land where the environment has become the 
interface, where we must learn anew how to make sense.” http://www.nettime.org/Lists-Archives/nettime-l-0307/msg00027.html

As the name suggests, Miranda Bruce, Australian National University, in her video session, 3rd July: "The Matter with Matter: New Materialist Theory on the IoT" argues that the internet of things is bringing attention back to things: „from the objects of the everyday to the objects of war, people are thinking about how to make things talk more to each other—and us—to make meaning…. New Materialism—can offer us new ways of thinking about the IoT that are more focused on the capacities and effects of the IoT, so that we can ask different and better questions about “what it means to be human in the internet of things”.”

I’m currently chairing the activity chain AC08 - Societal Impact and Responsibility in the Context of IoT Applications. From the outcomes of this Conference combined with the focus from IoT-I outcome Ethics Inside, http://www.ethicsinside.eu a start will be made with proposing a set of requirements for the position of Stakeholder Coordinator in Horizon 2020 Smart City projects to be discussed with IERC in Marseille, October.

The actionables that seem most promising as coming from the discussions in York are first and foremost the strategic framework that we can use as the bottonline from which to start:
”What can be called into doubt?
What can we compromise on?”
the concepts that can inform concrete IoT architectures
and an IoT ethics - sort of praxis -  that redefines our hitherto anthropocentric position into equal and reciprocal agency of all actors: people, things, animals, planet.

Au boulot!

Rob van Kranenburg 罗万魁
Founder of Council;  theinternetofthings.eu
Community Manager; sociotal.eu
Chair of Activity Chain 8 Societal of the IERC; www.internet-of-things-research.eu