Having conducted my entire career in the world of information technology, I (like the majority of my peers) am very used to and inspired by questions that begin with “could we..?”. The technology arena exists, is focused on and is inspired by the art of the possible. We never cease to amaze ourselves with what can be achieved over time as the principles of Moore’s Law deliver us more and more computing power and our imaginations are left to run riot.
30 years ago we marveled at the ability to hand-off complex business process to ERP systems, 20 years ago the internet took hold and we marveled at the prospect of accessing more information than was ever thought possible and 5 years ago the world of mobile communications got “smart” and manufacturers started to deliver powerful computing to the palm of our hands...
Now the “Internet of Things” has appeared and the prospect of “connecting everything” has us IT-types “Imagineering” again (love that word! – thanks Disney). This time, though, it seems to me that the implications of the IT industries next creation have far deeper social implications than ever before. There are already endless tales and predictions of what is coming in the not-to-distant future from internet-enabled cars that drive themselves, wristbands that bully us into going for a walk and tracking devices that could allow us to find our loved ones (whether they like it or not) in real-time, anywhere in the world.
Maybe, this time around, we should be applying ourselves to “should we” (as well as “could we”) questions? It feels to me like, as an industry, we have a duty of care here. Where does “wearable IT” stop just being clever and start being downright creepy? Who is having the conversation about limits and what is acceptable culturally? Is sufficient heed being given to the impact on personal privacy and the dwindling possibility of opting out of an internet connect world?
I had a conversation recently with an entrepreneur who holds a patent for GPS tracking devices that are kinetically charged through body movement and that can be embedded beneath the human skin. The initial implications to child protection seem obvious (and positive)… It would be virtually impossible to lose your child. “Should we”, though? What would the implications be of somebody else tracking your child? What about when your child grows up and you forget to mention to the adult that they can be tracked? What are the health implications in the long-term of having silicon sitting under your skin?
We live in an age where (ultimately) almost anything is possible with computing. The real merit of an idea in the future will need to be tested against real social (as well as economic) values... and if it has crossed the “creepy line”.