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Introduction — Resolved: On balance, the benefits of the Internet of Things outweigh the harms of decreased personal privacy.

October 18, 2016
Published in Newsletter

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Pro Essay 

Con Essay 

Argument Map 

Introduction — The Value of the Topic

Despite some initial consternation evidenced by coaches, I think the Internet of Things (IoT) is a great topic area. As noted:

Jacob Morgan is a keynote speaker, author (most recently of The Future of Work), and futurist., May 13, 2014, A Simple Explanation of the Internet of Things, http://www.forbes.com/sites/jacobmorgan/2014/05/13/simple-explanation-internet-things-that-anyone-can-understand/#d4361a668284 DOA: 9-25-16

The reality is that the IoT allows for virtually endless opportunities and connections to take place, many of which we can’t even think of or fully understand the impact of today. It’s not hard to see how and why the IoT is such a hot topic today; it certainly opens the door to a lot of opportunities but also to many challenges. Security is a big issue that is oftentimes brought up. With billions of devices being connected together, what can people do to make sure that their information stays secure? Will someone be able to hack into your toaster and thereby get access to your entire network? The IoT also opens up companies all over the world to more security threats. Then we have the issue of privacy and data sharing. This is a hot-button topic even today, so one can only imagine how the conversation and concerns will escalate when we are talking about many billions of devices being connected. Another issue that many companies specifically are going to be faced with is around the massive amounts of data that all of these devices are going to produce. Companies need to figure out a way to store, track, analyze and make sense of the vast amounts of data that will be generated So what now Conversations about the IoT are (and have been for several years) taking place all over the world as we seek to understand how this will impact our lives. We are also trying to understand what the many opportunities and challenges are going to be as more and more devices start to join the IoT. For now the best thing that we can do is educate ourselves about what the IoT is and the potential impacts that can be seen on how we work and live.

I think a lot of the initial concern with the resolution related to people not understanding what the IoT is.   After all, it sounds goofy. But the IoT is a real idea and a substantial amount is written about it.

I think you should approach this topic with a lot of interest and excitement, not with a negative attitude.

What is the IoT?

Basically, IOT is the connection of physical devices/things that have software embedded to support network connectivity.

Wikipedia, no date Internet of Things, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_of_things DOA: 9-25-16

The internet of things (IoT) is the internetworking of physical devices, vehicles, buildings and other items—embedded with electronicssoftware,sensors, actuators, and network connectivity that enable these objects to collect and exchange data.[1][2][3] In 2013 the Global Standards Initiative on Internet of Things (IoT-GSI) defined the IoT as “the infrastructure of the information society.” [4] The IoT allows objects to be sensed and/or controlled remotely across existing network infrastructure,[5] creating opportunities for more direct integration of the physical world into computer-based systems, and resulting in improved efficiency, accuracy and economic benefit.[6][7][8][9][10][11] When IoT is augmented with sensors and actuators, the technology becomes an instance of the more general class of cyber-physical systems, which also encompasses technologies such as smart grids,smart homesintelligent transportation and smart cities. Each thing is uniquely identifiable through its embedded computing system but is able to interoperate within the existing Internet infrastructure. Experts estimate that the IoT will consist of almost 50 billion objects by 2020.

The UN offers a similar, though less explanatory definition:

Government Executive, August 10, 2016, What is the Internet of Things? http://www.govtech.com/fs/What-is-the-Internet-of-Things.html

Oh, a definition is easy. The ITU, the United Nations’ information technology arm, has defined IoT as “a global infrastructure for the information society, enabling advanced services by interconnecting (physical and virtual) things based on existing and evolving interoperable information and communication technologies.”

One important idea to understand is that the IoT is not the Internet, rather it is the things connected to the Internet.

There are many different types of things that will be connected

Janna Anderson and Lee Raine, 2014, The Internet of Things Will Thrive by 2025, http://www.pewinternet.org/2014/05/14/internet-of-things/   Pew Research Center DOA: 9-28-16

Survey respondents expect the Internet of Things to be evident in many places, including:

  • Bodies: Many people will wear devices that let them connect to the Internet and will give them feedback on their activities, health and fitness. They will also monitor others (their children or employees, for instance) who are also wearing sensors, or moving in and out of places that have sensors.

  • Homes: People will be able to control nearly everything remotely, from how their residences are heated and cooled to how often their gardens are watered. Homes will also have sensors that warn about everything from prowlers to broken water pipes.

  • Communities: Embedded devices and smartphone apps will enable more efficient transportation and give readouts on pollution levels. “Smart systems” might deliver electricity and water more efficiently and warn about infrastructure problems.

  • Goods and services: Factories and supply chains will have sensors and readers that more precisely track materials to speed up and smooth out the manufacture and distribution of goods.

  • Environment : There will be real-time readings from fields, forests, oceans, and cities about pollution levels, soil moisture, and resource extraction that allow for closer monitoring of problems.

It is also known as as ubiquitous computing

Patrick Tusker, 2014, The Naked Future, Kindle edition, page number at end of card, Patrick Tucker is a science journalist and editor. Tucker’s writing on emerging technology has appeared in The Atlantic, Defense One, Quartz, National Journal, Slate, Salon, The Sun, MIT Technology Review, Wilson Quarterly, The Futurist, BBC News Magazine, and Utne Reader, among other publications. Tucker, Patrick. The Naked Future: What Happens in a World That Anticipates Your Every Move? . Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

A decade after his death, it’s the “ubiquitous” portion of Weiser’s ubiquitous computing vision that’s becoming reality for most of us. The total number of devices connected to the Internet first exceeded the size of the global human population in 2008 or so, according to Cisco, and is growing far faster. Cisco forecasts that there will be 50 billion machine-to-machine devices in existence by 2020, up from 13 billion in 2013. Today, we call ubiquitous computing by another name: the Internet of Things. Tucker, Patrick. The Naked Future: What Happens in a World That Anticipates Your Every Move? (p. 6). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

And, of course, it is always evolving:

Janna Anderson and Lee Raine, 2014, The Internet of Things Will Thrive by 2025, http://www.pewinternet.org/2014/05/14/internet-of-things/  Pew Research Center DOA: 9-28-16

JP Rangaswami, chief scientist for Salesforce.com, was particularly pointed in describing the benefits that will emerge in this new environment: “The proliferation of sensors and actuators will continue. ‘Everything’ will become nodes on a network. The quality of real-time information that becomes available will take the guesswork out of much of capacity planning and decision-making. We will really understand what it means to move from ‘stocks’ to ‘flows,’ as in the Hagel-Seely Brown-Davison model. 1 The net effect will be to reduce waste everywhere: in physical flows and logistics, in the movement of people and goods; in logical flows and logistics, in the movement of ideas and information; decisions will be made faster and better, based on more accurate information; prior errors in assumption and planning will be winkled out more effectively. ‘Inventory’ will be reduced, as will the waste associated with the decay that is an intrinsic part of inventory. This will affect the food you buy and cook and eat; the fuel you use to power yourself, your devices, and your vehicles; the time you take to do things; and, as you learn to live longer, the burden of care will reduce as a result of far better monitoring of, and response to, your physical and emotional state, in terms of healthcare. Our notions of privacy and sharing will continue to evolve as a result, with new tradeoffs needing to be understood and dealt with. People will engage with information using all of their senses: touch and feel, sight, sound, smell, and taste—using them in combination, more often than not. Wearable, connected devices will become embedded more and more in our bodies, more like implants, as in the [Google] Glass becoming more like contact lenses. As that happens, our ability to use nerve impulses to engage with information will expand dramatically. We will see today’s connected devices become smaller and smaller and slowly merge into the part of the body from where the particular sense related to that device operates.”

CONTINUES (with more detail as to how it violates privacy)

Many expect that a major driver of the Internet of Things will be incentives to try to get people to change their behavior—maybe to purchase a good, maybe to act in a more healthy or safe manner, maybe work differently, maybe to use public goods and services in more efficient ways. Laurel Papworth, social media educator, explained, “Every part of our life will be quantifiable, and eternal, and we will answer to the community for our decisions. For example, skipping the gym will have your gym shoes auto tweet (equivalent) to the peer-to-peer health insurance network that will decide to degrade your premiums. There is already a machine that can read brain activity, including desire, in front of advertising by near/proximity. I have no doubt that will be placed into the Big Data databases when evaluating hand gestures, body language, and pace for presenting social objects for discussion/purchase/voting.”

For topicality purposes, I think Con teams will want to make sure the debate stays focus on the value of connecting the things and not on the Internet in general.

On balance/outweigh.  Since these are common terms in most Public Forum resolutions, I’m not going to spend any time discussing them. Generally, the Pro team will argue that the overall benefits outweigh the privacy harms associated with the IoT.

The only topic-specific observation that is important to make out of the gate is that the Pro will have many arguments with consequentialist impacts (economic growth, saving lives, improving the environment) whereas the Con will have to not only defend the significance of a more theoretical concept (privacy) but also argue that the importance of protecting it is more important than these consequentialist/easier to relate to harms.

A resolution flaw?

There is one big flaw in the wording of the resolution — On balance, the benefits of the Internet of Things outweigh the harms of decreased personal privacy.

What the resolution should really say is,  On balance, the benefits of the Internet of Things outweigh the harms of decreased personal privacy [cause by the Internet of Things].

In other words, the resolution does not require the Con to only isolate the harms of privacy that result from the IoT, but literally just requires the one side to weigh IoT vs. privacy.

Despite this, of course, it’s not what it reads at first glance and judges, particularly, law judges are unlikely to see it this way — they will say that is not what the debate the resolution was mean (framer’s intent) to capture and so they’ll say that’s not how they are going to interpret it).  So, I caution relying on this interpretation. Moreover, the links from IoT to privacy violations are so significant (there is evidence that says it basically makes privacy meaningless) that I fail to see the strategic need to even do this.  Nonetheless, I want to warn you that teams may adopt this approach.

What is the status quo?

One of the initial concerns of coaches was that the IoT didn’t yet exist.

This really just isn’t true.

Government Technology, August 10, 2016, What is the Internet of Things? http://www.govtech.com/fs/What-is-the-Internet-of-Things.html 

Though many people frame discussion of the Internet of Things as a future hypothetical, it’s technically already existed for quite some time. Cellphones are sensor-laden, connected, ubiquitous devices. Cars are becoming increasingly connected. Air quality districts already take frequent measurements of the atmosphere.

An estimated 6 billion devices make up the IoT now –

Gartner, November 10, 2015, http://www.gartner.com/newsroom/id/3165317 Analysts to Explore the Value and Impact of IoT on Business at Gartner Symposium/ITxpo 2015, November 8-12 in Barcelona, Spain

Gartner, Inc. forecasts that 6.4 billion connected things will be in use worldwide in 2016, up 30 percent from 2015, and will reach 20.8 billion by 2020. In 2016, 5.5 million new things will get connected every day.

And it is expected that 20.8 billion devices will be connected by 2020

Wikipedia, no date Internet of Things, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_of_things DOA: 9-25-16

According to Gartner, Inc. (a technology research and advisory corporation), there will be nearly 20.8 billin devices on the internet of things by 2020.[44] ABI Research estimates that more than 30 billion devices will be wirelessly connected to the internet of things by 2020.[45] As per a recent survey and study done by Pew Research Internet Project, a large majority of the technology experts and engaged Internet users who responded—83 percent—agreed with the notion that the Internet/Cloud of Things, embedded and wearable computing (and the corresponding dynamic systems[46]) will have widespread and beneficial effects by 2025.[47] As such, it is clear that the IoT will consist of a very large number of devices being connected to the Internet.

The Controversy

What makes the IoT work (and produce benefits) is the massive collection and easy exchange of information.

There are many examples –

  • Convenience – Will refrigerator know you are out of a food item and then automatically place an order with Amazon for delivery that same day?
  • Health – Will your phone report a lack of exercise to your doctor so that he or she can follow-up with you on your health?
  • Energy – Will your thermostat automatically adjust to the times your are normally in your home and adjust temperature accordingly?
  • Agriculture – Will sensors be able to monitor changing environmental conditions and adjust water and pesticide sprayings?
  • Productivity – Will workers be able to be monitored at all times, both in the office and on the road?
  • Education — Detailed attendance and academic records will be automatically kept of students; Instruction will be able to be delivered in specific needs.
  • Security – There will be cameras and sensors everywhere (including in light bulbs). The policy may have access to purchasing patterns.
  • Life assistance — Will the IoT help the disabled and elderly individuals in assisted living?

These are just a few examples of the way information will be automatically collected and taken advantage of in to improve the quality of our lives.

Check out our (relatively) complete argument map.

Of course, as we have already seen on other topics, collecting, retaining, and monitoring (especially establishing patterns) among all of this information creates significant problems for privacy of the individuals the data is being collected on. And, of course, the same technologies that make privacy violations possible also make it security threats possible (imagine the damage that could be done by someone deliberately undermining local climate supports for agricultural productivity).

Privacy (as identified in the resolution) and security (as link from privacy but and also as an independent argument) are the primary Con arguments. And, of course, the Con may identify other arguments (oil dependence good, energy efficiency bad) to impact turn the Pro arguments. Of course, the privacy argument is given to the Con in the resolution and they will need to work to establish the relevance of other Con arguments, but it is certainly possible.

In the next two essays I will review some of the key Pro and Con arguments and conclude with some overall strategic thoughts.

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