The internet of things will end expired milk at the store and your free will

If we assume that by 2025 computing will be wearable, ubiquitous in our environments and connected what happens to our society? A recent Pew report out Wednesday on the internet of things seeks to answer this question (I participated in the survey as well). For people who spend a lot of time thinking about the promises and perils of connectivity the results are pretty obvious, but well worth exploring if you don’t spend hours a day pondering the internet of things.

The benefits are pretty well laid out on the utopian end of the spectrum. Connected people and sensors can create just-in time inventory, which means your grocery store will no longer stock expired milk, will offer real-time traffic updates and perhaps help us monitor and improve our environments. But at the dystopian or cautionary end, the privacy implications were at the forefront of most people’s minds as well as the type of data darwinism that Om has written about.

Microsoft researcher Danah Boyd wondered if we’d have a prototype for “thought control” by 2025 and Aaron Balick, a PhD, psychotherapist, and author of The Psychodynamics of Social Networking, wonders about the loss of free will:

Positive things may be tempered by a growing reliance on outsourcing to technologies that make decisions not based on human concerns, but instead on algorithms (however influenced by our own past choices). We may begin to lose sight of our own desires or our own wills, like many of these drivers who we hear about who, because their GPS told them to, end up in the most unlikely places in the face of all sorts of real-world, contrary evidence. What will happen to our own senses of intuition, let alone our capacity to venture into the unknown, learn new things, and our ability to be still and quiet without being in constant relationship to one device or another.

For me, this is a concern that should be tempered by the realization the developing intelligence in our machines could free us to think more deeply about topics because we will have the means to put down our screens and access compute as needed via gesture, voice or other means. Our computers will also have the artificial intelligence and context about us that will let them interrupt when it’s prudent, as opposed to all the time.

The nice thing is, as someone covering this sector I see how much freedom we as individuals and as technologists will have in building out a world the way we want it to look. For example, to ditch my phone, I have programmed my lights to share urgent information, freeing up my free time to delve into projects without the fear of missing something important. A colleague may go another way, spending his time glued to Google Glass(s goog) so as to see every tweet as it comes in.

This amount of user control is possible, but we need to continue building tools that can be customized for individuals and enforce societal norms that won’t chain people to heads up displays or a constant streams of information. This is something we can do, and something we should do.