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What's the point of the Internet of Things?

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Sysadmin blog Smart-homes are not designed for the young, fit 20-something. Instead, smart-homes have been absorbed into the Internet of Things (IoT), a broader form of connectivity worship that seemingly aims to unify fridge and washing machine, automobile and heart monitor.

The purpose of all of this technology isn't readily apparent those of us in peak physical and mental condition. What use does a normal person have for a fridge that remembers when the milk spoiled? Can't they just smell the milk, or check the expiry date?

The answer, dear reader, is no. Not all of us can. It might shock some of you to know, but we are not all the same, and many of us can and do have any variety of physical or mental ailments that make even trivial tasks seem overwhelming.

Consider a rather important recent paper Decision Fatigue Exhausts Self-Regulatory Resources — But So Does Accommodating to Unchosen Alternatives [PDF]. The paper can be summed up thusly: sleeping grants you a finite amount of willpower. Every decision you make uses up some, but so does blindly allowing others to choose for you.

To wit: we need to feel in control, but sweating the small stuff is burning us out like spent candles.

Consider also that many common disorders can reduce or cap your "willpower reserves." I have ADHD and I can say with some authority that "poor impulse control" is a very real thing for some of us, and that it manifests as a dramatically increased sensitivity to decision fatigue. Many other Autism spectrum disorders, ranging from OCD to depression to Asperger's have the same issue, with the cumulative effect being that a significant portion of our population has a dramatically reduced ability to deal with life's petty decisions.

Solutions to real problems

This is where the IoT in general – and smart-homes in particular – really show their value. The wife and I would dearly love a widget in the kitchen that knew what we had in the cupboards and could recommend healthy meals, including information on cooking timeframes, complexity, etc.

Walk into the kitchen, know that that the machine isn't going to spit out anything you abjectly abhor for a meal, and simply cook what the robot says. No staring blankly into the fridge light hoping to scrape together enough brain cells to make what's in front of your face will coalesce into something supper-like and no more trips out for fast food.

Similarly, an internet connected fish tank really could be useful. Widgets attached to the various pets' enclosures – and to the cat's litter box – that could either order supplies automatically or at least ping me when I'm in the vicinity of the pet store.

For that matter, why can't the computer detect that I have a meeting across town by looking in my Outlook calendar, look at the supplies I need for various things and come up with a list of errands I need to run, as well as a good estimate of when I'll need to leave to make all the chores on time?

Alzheimer's patients could sure use a house that helps them remember things, detects when the cooking's been set alight or even takes note that the things they're putting in the cooking are safe for human consumption. (Yes, this is a risk as Alzheimer's progresses.)

The elderly could use a house that could detect if they've had a fall, orders supplies for them and so forth. I think we could all use a house that reminds us if the kettle/stove/iron/tap was left on, especially when we're rushing out the door to catch a flight at 3am.

The point of the IoT

The IoT in general – and the smart-house more specifically – is not likely to give birth to one killer product that rules them all. There's no iPhone on the horizon to unify the clans. Instead, the whole point of building so many seemingly useless internet-connected widgets is that they will each help out a niche.

We are so diverse as a species that each of us has different needs. Rare is the individual so "perfect" that there is nothing in their lives that could stand improvement. For some of us – myself included – there is a great deal yet that technology could offer that would make my life better.

This is the purpose of the Internet of Things. It is to make our lives better, by solving one disability – no matter how minor – at a time. Maybe, if we're really lucky, the availability of technology to solve these problems will also help remove the stigma from so many affected individuals that they are stupid/lazy/crazy/etc.

It's a lofty goal, perhaps, but with enough technology to help us, maybe we'll finally stop thinking of each other in terms of categories and disabilities. Maybe – just maybe – our smart homes will help us think of each other simply as "people". ®

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