Morlocks and eloi in the Internet of Things

For any fan of Neal Stephenson and Cory Doctorow,  the contents of the following opinion piece on goals and applications of the Internet of Things (IoT) should be no great surprise.

I am using the post Technical Machine – Designing for Humans as a study case.

[ Technical Machine is the company which builds  the Tessel. This is a product with a great potential! I wish I could use tessels for   the purpose explained in the post Experimental alife IoT with Tessel .  ]

This nice post is interesting in itself, but it is also an example of the shifting of the ideology concerning the Internet of Things.

I extract two contradictory quotes from the post and then I discuss them (and explain why they seem to me contradictory).

(1) ” A completely interactive tool, one that seamlessly incorporates humans as a piece of the system, is a tool that people don’t even think about. That’s the end goal: Ubiquitous Computing as Mark Weiser imagined it. Every object is an embedded device, and as the user, you don’t even notice the calm flow of optimization.
The Nest thermostat is a good example of this sort of calm technology. The device sits on your wall, and you don’t spend much time interacting with it after the initial setup. It learns your habits: when you’re home, when you’re not, what temperatures you want your house to be at various points in the day. So you, as the user, don’t think about it. You just live in a world that’s better attuned to you.”


(2) “I think that one of the most interesting things we’ll see in the near future is the creation of non-screen interfaces. Interacting with technology, we rely almost solely on screens and buttons. But in the physical world, we use so many other interfaces. […] there’s a lot of fascinating work going on to receive outputs from humans. […] The implications there are amazing: you can wire up your own body as an electrical input into any electrical system– like a computer, or a robot, or whatever else you might build. You can control physical and digital things just by thinking really hard or by twitching your fingers.”


Now the discussion. Why are (1) and (2) contradictory?

I shall explain this by using the morlocks/eloi evocative oversimplification.

From historical reasons maybe the morlocks (technical nerds) are trained/encouraged/selected to hate discussions, human exchanges and interactions in general. Their dream technology is one like in (1), i.e. one which does not talk with the humans, but quietly optimize (from the morlock pov) the eloi environment.

On the contrary, the eloi love to talk, love to interact one with the others. In fact the social Net is a major misuse of morlock technology by eloi. Instead of a tool for fast and massive share of data, as the morlocks designed it, the Net became a very important (most important?) fabric of human interactions, exchanging lolcats images and sweet little nonsenses which make the basis of everyday empathic interaction with our fellow humans. And much more: the eloi prefer to use this (dangerous) tool for communicating, even if they know that the morlocks are sucking big data from them. They (the eloi) would prefer by far to not be in bayesian bubbles, but that’s life, they are using opportunistically things they don’t understand how they work, despite being told to be more careful.

The quote (2) show that people start to think about the IoT as an even more powerful tool of communication. OK, we have this nice technology which baby-sits us and we live calm lives because quietly the machine optimizes the little details without asking us. But, think that we can use the bit IoT machine for more than conversations. We can use it as the bridge which unites the virtual and the meat spaces, we can make real things  from discussions and we can discuss about real objects.

This is a much more impressive application of the IoT than the one which optimizes our daily life. It is something which would allow to make our dreams come true, literary! And collaboratively.

I have argued before about that, noticing that “thing” means both an assembly and a discussion (idea taken via Kenneth Olwig) and object is nothing but the result,  or outcome of a discussion, or evidence for a discussion. See the more at the post Notes for Internet of Things not Internet of objects.

It’s called “Internet of Things” and not “Internet of Objects” and it seems that morlocks start to realize this.






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