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Bob Johnson: From the Internet of Things Into the World of Context

Shel Israel, a keynote speaker earlier this year at both Macworld and CES, and at major Internet conferences in the East and in Europe, will be speaking at the MIT Enterprise Forum Central Coast on June 18 in Santa Barbara.

Bob Johnson
Bob Johnson

Israel is the co-author of The Age of Context, a prediction and description of how the Internet will become thoroughly embedded in how we live. He will discuss real world, down-home examples from everyday life. His presentation will be followed by a panel discussion with Kevin O’Connor, founder of FindTheBest and DoubleClick, and Craig Harris, founder of HG Data and NOZA. This is a unique opportunity to hear from leading thinkers and practitioners about a profound convergence of forces in the Internet economy today — and what will emerge very soon.

Much has been written and said about the Internet of Things — monitoring our refrigerators, controlling our light switches, security systems and door locks — but it is already going far beyond this.

We are seeing an explosion of wearable sensors — monitoring steps to calories to posture to REM sleep to high-resolution cardiac functions — even to knowing whether you are looking up or looking down (without wearing Google glasses).

An MIT startup has announced a cardiac monitor the size of a Band-Aid that tracks some 30 variables and will be able tell if you’re having a heart attack. It will call 9-1-1, your doctor and your spouse. It won’t be long before it may be able to tell if you’re going to have a heart attack in the next 24 hours. Would you not want to wear one?

Apple is developing earbud sensors to measure head movements and many physiological parameters. Dr. Dre headphones won’t just be for rappers.

And we are about to see an even bigger explosion of precision locating: knowing where you are and which way you are moving, within inches!

Apple just announced its iBeacon technology, by which apps can know where you are within inches. They will steer you to an open parking spot in a garage or to the shortest hot dog line in a ballpark. PayPal is doing a similar thing. More than half of the top 100 retailers in the United States will begin using these beacons this year.

Google is buying Nest so it can understand your household habits.

This is more than “Ambient Intelligence” — it is knowing your movements in the external world and knowing your physiology — your internal world. As you live with it, it will come to know you, and even your moods. It will be like having a butler, only more so.

Of course you will want to control this butler, make sure it keeps your secrets. Not like personal assistants to movie stars!

Esther Dyson, a highly regarded thinker on the sociological impact of digital technology, has written a lot about privacy. She points out that privacy is a relatively new concept. Before the mid-1800s, there was very little privacy. Ordinary people lived in close quarters, often sharing even sleeping rooms. Wealthier people had servants — who knew everything about them — and shared it among themselves.

It is only in the 20th century that the concept of privacy has become something that we see as a fundamental right. Maintaining this right is something modern societies take very seriously. Look at the recent decision in Europe requiring Google to remove certain kinds of negative information if an individual requests it.

But it is probably only a matter of time before violent offenders, at the least, will lose any right to privacy. It will be determined that the public good trumps the privacy of someone who has already harmed society. Today we already require sex offenders to register when they move into a community.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves, aren’t we? Come Wednesday evening for a glimpse of the future. Meet your new Butler!

The MIT Enterprise Forum Central Coast begins at 5 p.m. Wednesday, June 18, at the Cabrillo Pavilion Arts Center, 1118 E. Cabrillo Blvd. Click here for more information or to register for the event.

— Bob Johnson is a board member of the MIT Enterprise Forum Central Coast. The opinions expressed are his own.

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