Posted by Jonathan Holdowsky
A while ago, I came across a quote from Khalil Gibran—“Forgetfulness is a form of freedom.”
I was reminded of this notion when I recently attended a talk given by David Rose, technology entrepreneur and lecturer at the MIT Media Lab. There, Rose spoke about “GlowCaps”, a pill bottle he developed that is designed to send sound, light, and text reminders when the patient fails to take the medication at the prescribed time. GlowCaps is but one example of what Rose calls an “enchanted” object—everyday items endowed with the ability to serve human needs thanks to the connectivity technologies made possible by the Internet of Things (IoT).
When we think about the IoT, we often think about the grand vision—from smart homes to smart factories to smart cities. But David Rose suggests that something just as profound occurs when connective technology “disappears” into the ordinariness of life. The pill bottle that sends reminders to a forgetful patient. The umbrella that lights up when rain is on the way. The furniture that changes shape in response to a hand gesture. The doorbell that rings unique sounds based on who is approaching the door. The wallet with a resistive hinge that literally gets harder to open as the user depletes his monthly budget. The fork that discourages a person from eating too quickly (and, therefore, too much) based on what it knows about his past eating habits.
Such is the world of enchanted objects that David Rose evangelizes. But what David Rose may really be preaching is that through these and other enchanted objects, IoT connectivity has the power to change or “augment” everyday human behavior for the better—as much as it may positively affect industrial activity or public sector management. In the vernacular of David Rose, the Internet of Things might more aptly be termed the Internet of Ordinary Things.
But this begs the question—is the “enchantment” of an ordinary object into one that is extraordinary a good unto itself? Rose would say that the enchanted objects that ultimately succeed are the ones that satisfy any of what he sees as six primal human urges:
The objective of Rose’s process of enchantment is geared to satisfy one or more of these yearnings. But the story doesn’t end there. Satisfying a human drive is one thing. Commercial success is quite another. For an enchanted object to be commercially successful, Rose believes that it must “strike a balance between practicality and pleasure, form and function.” It must be simple in design. It must behave in “loveable” ways. It must be durable and, at the end of the day, affordable. And, if a company is really lucky, the object will invite continued interest and related post-purchase services.
David Rose is a man who is clearly as much entrepreneurial capitalist as he is visionary.
So much of Deloitte’s vast and growing collection of thoughtware on the IoT examines a question we think David Rose would appreciate: How will this emerging set of technologies affect our everyday lives in ways big and small? For example, in IoT’s about us: Emerging forms of innovation in the Internet of Things, the authors speak about how the “nature and functions of everyday things—and the networked environments they comprise—will continue to evolve, thanks to the infusion of data, information, and network linkages into their basic designs.” The authors call this the “transfiguration of the commonplace”. In Inside the Internet of Things (IoT): A primer on the technologies building the IoT, the authors argue that the interplay between the IoT and human choice will likely only evolve and become more prominent in the years ahead.
At the end of his talk, David Rose sought questions from the audience. One question stood out more than the others: As the world becomes increasingly dependent on smart things, what have we lost in the process? After considering some of what we may have lost—from personal interaction to basic map-reading skills—he paused and offered a somewhat more optimistic assessment.
“It’s not so much about what we’ve lost, it’s really about the freedom we’ve gained.”