2011: a decisive year for IoT in Europe

2011: a decisive year for IoT in Europe
Rob van Kranenburg – Council, a thinktank for the Internet of Things, Member of the Expert Group on IoT
A text for the Clusterbook 2011

Technicism and science are consubstantial, and science no longer exists when it ceases to interest for itself alone, and it cannot so interest unless men continue to feel enthusiasm for the general principles of culture. – José Ortega y Gasset, The Revolt of the Masses.

In this short text I want to propose two things for IoT: an open generic value, service and organizational layer and a device. Combined, these can create enthusiasm and a vision to transcend the false opposition between ‘progressive’ Wikileaks and ‘conservative’ US State Department calls for “the development and support of web-based circumvention technology to enable users in closed societies to get around firewalls and filters in acutely hostile Internet environments.” In terms of Climate Change, running out of natural resources and exploding human birth rates, defining what is an open or closed society in human terms of flows of data is an academic exercise when more cities start to look like New Orleans, Detroit and Brisbane.

Co-moderating the first IOT-A Stakeholder workshop in Paris (October 2010) it became clear how strongly big industry and the big system integrators envisage a global generic value chain where items will be logged, tracked and traced. The extent to which this will change them as individual brands is moderately foreseen in this operation. In the Spring 2011 edition of the Situated Technologies series, Christian Nold and I argue in ‘The Internet of People for a Post-Oil World’ that this process much resembles the standardmaking of the barcode and EPC Global. The first refers to items as a batch, the second (RFID) to uniquely identifiable items. As the Internet of Things has huge societal as well as economic implications, we argue that the standard making process that will build this generic value chain should include social and cultural issues as well as logistic and system driven ones.

The second reason why we need global hard regulated standards on a simple, effective and highly integrated value chain wave strategy with as little noise, redundancy and overlap as possible is that we have as of yet no coherent academic view on the effects of radio-waves on humans, animals and plants. The Sensing Planet, and Smart City are very powerful concepts to streamline new balances between people and the planet, people and animals and plants and people and other people. They require huge sensor-beds and a large number of UHF readers as well as astronomical amounts of handheld readers in mobile devices. In the input I gave to EP Lena Kolarska Bobinska, a number of the issues I raised through Council, the thinktank I founded in december 2009 (currently 71 professionals), made it to Parliament resolution of 15 June 2010 on the Internet of Things (2009/2224(INI), (P7_TA-PROV(2010)0207) such as “Stresses the importance of studying the social, ethical and cultural implications of the Internet of Things, in the light of the potentially far-reaching transformation of civilisation that will be brought about by these technologies; takes the view, therefore, that it is important for socio-economic research and political debate on the Internet of Things to go hand in hand with technological research and its advancement,” and the request for the study of “the impact of electromagnetic fields on animals, especially birds in cities;”. In the light of the recent mass deaths of birds in different places in the world linked by some to “microwave radiation from 4G-networks” this seems to become relevant. It makes sense to have a Sensing Planet only if the very infrastructure that does the sensing becomes not an integral part of the problem.

Without significant changes in the next 5 years of EU’s Digital Agenda the billions invested so far and in FP8 will have served as investments in platforms that are either closed (FP7 and 8 Security), used for free by an integrated Chinese value layer (that has won from GS1 as the main dominant identification scheme) serve as a municipal layer of citizen services dominated by the IBM/Cisco Smart City concept, and facilitate a service layer dominated by Facebook/Google/Apple as the social networking billions will find their way into more critical functions of everyday life. Europe will be a testbed for these services with its high level of education of citizens and rich culture that can be explored. But it is clear that it will pay all the bills and make no money.

In the mid-1990’s we see the first attempts to give citizens real-time feedback on public transport in cities. The European Union had a very productive R&D scheme for academics and companies called “Intelligent Information Interfaces” which included projects like “Ambient Agoras,” “Interliving” and “Grocer.” In 1996, Philips developed a social RFID project called Living Memory (LiMe) that would “provide members of a local community with a means to capture, share and explore their collective memories” via RFID tokens that interact with screens in bars and bus stop information boards. Hardly any of these projects led to the creation of actual products. Companies could not agree on the intellectual property for the things that were developed and the timing for pervasive computing business models was off. They did not produce anything but they have learned from these projects. Today they talk about co-creation and real people. In 2003, at a time when the EU funded research projects like LiMe, Steven Kyffin of Philips stated:

USEFUL …listening to and developing technology for ordinary people sums up what we might refer to as Co-Creative design. Involving the end user in a core and proactive manner at all stages in the product or system creation process.

RELEVANT …listening to and developing technology for ordinary people is so relevant because the “ordinary…ness” is the issue.

Malta has been a member of the European Union since 2004. Like all states today it aims to be smart. It has set up Smart City Malta. The contact officer providing the expertise is from Dubai, the press contact from Cisco. The model on which it is based is…Dubai: “SmartCity Malta is a self-sustained industry township for knowledge-based companies located in the Ricasoli Estate in Malta. To be developed by SmartCity, in partnership with the Government of Malta, SmartCity Malta will be home to a vibrant knowledge-economy community anchored by leading global, regional and local companies. SmartCity Malta is set to become the leading ICT and Media cluster in the heart of the Mediterranean and the first European outpost of the global SmartCity network. With a minimum investment outlay of US $ 300 million, SmartCity Malta will transform Malta into a state-of-the-art ICT and Media business community based on the successful clusters of Dubai Internet City, Dubai Media City and Dubai Knowledge Village.”

This is not serious. European citizens are getting the worst of all possible worlds. They do not have the positive effects of the huge potential and actuality of policy, product, and hardware infrastructure integration of the Chinese vision, nor the positive effects of the USA extreme no-policy-whatsoever laissez fare situation that allows the social networking sites to flourish without privacy policies, Apple to close garden and Google, IBM and CISCO to start investing in society critical infrastructure and services in purely capitalist fashion. Instead their money pays for platforms that other people make money off, their ISP’s have to comply with data privacy rules based on 19th century notions of romantic autonomous individuals, there is no VC money for European IoT startups that have to go to Asia to get funding, and worst of all: we all know this and seem to simply carry on, caught in our policy formats.

Uptake goes through devices. People run their applications on their smart-phones without investigating the algorythms that inform them. Code is law in this respect still. The device holds the key to the protocols it allows on the back end and the applications and interoperability it allows with other hardware and software. It is possible to embed social, cultural and economic value in this process. In fact that is what law is doing all the time.

Speaking on The Internet of Things at a Far Horizon workshop held on the 2nd and 3rd of December 2010 on “ Education for an ICT revolutionizing society” that was held within the Seventh Framework Foresight workprogram in the EU, I was engaged in conversation with Constantijn van Oranje-Nassau who in his introduction had spoken of the heavy rucksacks his children were taking to school. He wondered when the books could go in favour of a small computing pad. Someone uttered: Let’s buy them ipads! In the following discussions it was suggested to develop European standards for educational tablets, rather than adapting education to existing concepts and standards that have been developed by some non-European major players. Recently a Singapore pilot was run with schoolchildren reducing the weight of their bags drastically by giving them ipads. Many schools in the US and in European countries are following. Victor van Rij, leader of the Far Horizon project regarding education for ICT Society, mentions a Scottish school that in september 2010 fully changed to the ipad and points to the developments in the US: “The New York City public schools have ordered more than 2,000 iPads, for $1.3 million…More than 200 Chicago public schools applied for 23 district-financed iPad grants totaling $450,000. The Virginia Department of Education is overseeing a $150,000 iPad initiative that has replaced history and Advanced Placement biology textbooks at 11 schools.” I fear that very soon someone in Germany or the Netherlands will propose a similar idea. Apart from the fact that this would give Apple not only 30% on any educational EU app, but also some intrinsic editorial control, I see no reason why we should spend our money making Apple shareholders richer then they are already.

EU industry could build a more robust and cheap tablet. Build in close relationship with high education potentials such as India and China it could build a device that has the potential of tens of millions of open platforms for learning. Also for learning technology and programming.
Mark Belinski states:

“The iPad is magic to children. Press a button and it does everything that you want it to. The problem is that it doesn’t tell you how the magic happens. There’s a danger in teaching kids to inherently trust technology without being more critical of it. The iPad defaults in being a consumer technology, not a producer technology…. To truly learn about how to orient ourselves to the democratic society within which we live, it’s hard to believe that learning through a centralized and strict system is the best way to go. Open source software intrinsically reflects the values of our society – it is transparent, accountable, and efficient. As our government is increasingly built on this framework, from the new open data repositories to the sites themselves, as well as our corporate enterprise infrastructure. It’s crucial to teach our kids with tools that reflect this world.”

Uptake goes through devices. EU industry should make them. EU values should be embedded in them. EU infrastrucure should host them. A tablet for educational purposes across all member states is a very good start.

In the Council vision of a successful development of IoT there are regional ‘islands’ connected through generic layers on mission critical services that directly address Climate Change, Peak oil and the deep social changes we are witnessing from individuals being able to organise quickly for better: more social cohesion, balance and justice, or for worse: more gated communities, selfish waste of resources and communities of like minded social media ‘friends’. These generic layers can be steered most productively through devices. It is not inconceivable that a tablet for schoolchildren becomes a device that will serve these critical functions in a society that consists of organised networks. It can become a kind of passport. Through Near Field Communication it can serve as a bartering tool, either in money, or in ‘karweitjes’ (small jobs). It can be linked to smart energy meters in a street or neighbourhood showing you are actually taking out energy or putting some back in. It can be the new tool to pay ‘taxes’. Already Finance Departments are beginning to cater to their customers, showing them where their money is actually going. Where Does My Money Go? is “an independent non-partisan project trying to make government finances much easier to explore and understand – so you can see where every pound of your taxes gets spent.” Open Data programs have no logical end so at one particular point taxpayers will want to see all the bills and decide if they want to pay all the costs that states and organisations claim is necessary to serve primary functions. The algorithms informing the key protocols to the device can be opened up for change every five years.

This trade off between islands where developments can take place rooted in local practices (that can be even quite luddite) and a generic layer that is just, that treats resources and animals and plants as equals, can be the new iteration where activists, industry and policy can work together without compromising on their real talents.