The Epic Struggle of the Internet of Things
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If the hype is to be believed then the next big thing is the Internet of Things. But is it what you think it is? Because the Internet of Things is not about things on the internet. A world in which all our household gadgets can communicate with each other may sound vaguely useful, but it's not really for us consumers. The Internet of Things serves the interests of the technology giants, in their epic wrangles with each other. And it is they who will turn the jargon of “smart cities" and “smart homes" into a self-fulfilling prophesy. In this piercing and provocative essay, Bruce Sterling tells the story of an idea that just won't go away because there's too much money to be made and a whole world to control.
village. States have functions that aren’t supplied by infrastructure, even of the digital kind. So the Internet of Things is not a coup d’état, it’s not Orwellian totalitarianism at work. However, it’s definitely about power, and also wealth and fame. Making your refrigerator talk to your toaster is a senseless trick that any competent hacker can achieve today for twenty bucks. It is trivial, but the Internet of Things is epic. It will entail a struggle – not for the Internet of Things, or
against it – but inside it, as it both grows and fails. 2. In this part of my essay, I want to name and number some of the players, and describe what they want and how they work. If the Internet of Things spreads widely, the way these people behave today is the key to the way most everybody else will be compelled to behave. They’ll be society’s leading actors, the exemplars of progress. So let’s start with the champions of the Internet of Things, the Big Five: Microsoft, Apple, Google, Amazon
desk and run around in the real world of “things”. Google recently caused frantic interest through its three billion dollar purchase of a thermostat. But of course Google doesn’t want the thermostat as a mere consumer-electronics device – it wants to amass and analyse the records of millions of interactions with millions of thermostats. That becomes a stack of Big Data that Google can bundle and sell to interested parties. Google spent the money, not because the Nest thermostat is worth it, but
Google+ as its effort to steal Facebook’s oxygen, but it turns out that social networks aren’t commodities. Their “architectures of participation” make them something more like political parties. People join them for reasons of temperament, not for the elegance of their software-based rules of order. Google will nevertheless continue to run Google+, even at a grinding financial loss if necessary, merely to slow the growth of the blinding lump that is Facebook. Microsoft, for its part, will
build a jet engine, they do a lot of math first, they smelt out the parts, and then fire it up and they see how it explodes. The Internet of Things industrial approach is radically different. Basically, it covers a jet engine with about a zillion spy devices and x-rays it in real time, compiling a colossal Big Database of the thing’s behaviour. This scheme required a scarifying level of computational power that General Electric did not, at that point, possess. However, GE knew better than to