Interview: ThingsCon & responsible IoT on RBB

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RBB Kulturradio RBB, a public broadcast radio in Berlin, invited me to chat about smart homes and responsible IoT. So I put my ThingsCon hat on and headed over to their studio earlier today. You can listed to the stream (in German) over on their website:

RBB Kulturradio Tagesthema: Wie intelligent sollen unsere Geräte werden?

A few things were noteworthy to me.

  • Of course a short show like this (with two interview partners and call-in listeners) can only ever scratch the surface.
  • IoT in general and smart homes are areas both simultaneously so vague and concrete that everybody has an opinion and projects all kinds of hopes and fears. (Which is why I advocate breaking IoT discussions down into the most concrete areas—or arenas—possible.)
  • Lots of fears are of course proxies in which one particular technology or feature stand in for a larger personal or societal fear, like unemployment through automation, loss of control, or invasions of privacy.
  • Somewhat unexpectedly to me, Roombas featured prominently. The show’s host, at least one caller, and I all have a Roomba at home and it seems it’s one of the most relatable, most universally considered “useful” appliances in the connected home. That is, if you want to include a Roomba as part of the connected home suite – after all, most models aren’t connected to anything. However in conversations before, during, and after the show people mentioned the issues with the complexity of formerly extremely easy-to-use appliances like connected TVs or radios.

This show is as consumer-oriented a show as there could be rather, so listeners are unlikely to be involved in shaping IoT as practitioners. So we didn’t get to talk much about ethical or responsible IoT as much as I’d hoped to. But it’s also very clear that the topics we’ve been tackling with ThingsCon are arriving in the most mainstream circles, and that there’s a lot of work to do.

Users/consumers/citizens don’t really trust connected systems, and maybe they shouldn’t. Or rather, they shouldn’t unless they know these systems have been designed deliberately to be responsible, ethical, and built for humans. Which is exactly what the ThingsCon community works towards.

During the interview I also mentioned labels or trust marks for connected products/services/systems. A consumer-readable, simple labeling systems to allow for better informed decisions is, in my mind, essential going forward. I’ll certainly try to poke at this and see if we can make something happen, one way or another. I think this won’t be easy, but is far from impossible given the right partners—and I’m confident we can find them.

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