One of the oldest “smart” ideas is having a refrigerator that inventories supplies and can even tell you when your milk is souring. This one fits in nicely with the “caddy” concept I wrote about last time. A variation on this suggests meals that can be put together from food you have on hand. Given the level of food waste in the developed nations, this might be of value. I can even see encouragement coming from government, similar to Energy Saver labeling in the U.S. (My power company offers to haul away old refrigerators to encourage the use of more efficient appliances.)
Could this be bumped up to the community level? Could suggestions be made to share, even contribute to food pantries, that food which has gone out of favor in a household? More importantly, such shared information might be used to encourage local consumption, suggesting when and where to purchase food produced nearby before it spoils.
Of course, thinking in terms of refrigerators and cupboards, furnaces and air conditioners, alarms and locked doors, ignores the sensors and actuators that, more and more permeate our environment. The most serious use of an Internet of Things (IoT) is likely to be building intelligence into those things that are part of the world of children and infants. Fear of suffocation has stripped cribs of toys, including stuffed animals. Could the teddy bear be restored if you made it a sensing device that would alert parents to danger (or even take action)? Older children already are being tracked by parents, but would it be possible to detect emerging behaviors, such as bullying, through patterns?
Online activity, which now amounts to letting minors loose in red-light districts could be modified to better protect children from predators. Again, the individualized approach, where a parent attempts to monitor what children are up to, seems to be open to defeat since younger generations both understand computers and communications better and share approaches to evading protections. A community approach could share knowledge between adults and even detect emerging patterns the might present risks.
As shared approaches to parenting in the IoT begin to surface and be adopted, there will be a real danger of overprotecting and making it harder for the next generation to make mistakes for themselves and learn how to be adults. We see something similar with “helicopter parents” using today’s more immediate communications to track students, even into their university years, and intervene on their behalf. (Someone recently told me about how the parents of an intern she had at work charged in one day to tell her how she should manage him. The parents an the intern were both dismissed.)
Even as technology puts the autonomy of our children at risk, it can increase the autonomy of aging parents by monitoring medications, meals, household infrastructure and security, and more. This brings up the most intimate of IoT, the movement of smart devices into our bodies. That will be the subject of my next post.