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Connected: To Everyone and Everything
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine (2013)
  • Katherine Albrecht
  • Katina Michael, University of Wollongong

The activist group CASPIAN (Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering) was founded in 1999 by Katherine Albrecht, the very same year that Kevin Ashton co-founder and executive director of the then Auto-ID Center at MIT made a presentation to Proctor & Gamble with a title that included the phrase “Internet of Things”. According to Ashton, “the most numerous and important routers of all” are people but people have limitations and are not very good at capturing data about objects in the physical world. In 2001, Ashton’s automatic identification vision had become a lot clearer. At the Auto-ID Center during a Forrester Executive Strategy Forum he stated: “In nature, identification is a matter of life and death. If you can’t identify things, you can’t count them, you can’t work out whether or not you can eat them, you can’t work out whether or not they are friends or foe”. And all this in the context of a discussion with an African tracker emphasising how a predator decides to attack a herd of zebra to “singulate”, “hunt”, and finally to “exhaust”.

It is true that the "connectedness" offered by the Internet of Things is extremely powerful, and has tremendous possibility, but as far as people are concerned, there are two fundamental, and potentially fatal flaws to its vision. The first flaw is that people are not “things” but as soon as they are incorporated into the Internet of Things, they become things, at least in the eyes of the system. And they potentially become prey as well, as we have seen in recent events. Prey for marketers, for overzealous security arms of government, and a whole lot more. But people are not mere “objects.” Placing numbers on individuals and putting them on equal footing with cans of cola and bags of dog food is simply dehumanising. At one point, Kevin Ashton was planning a book tentatively titled Soda with Souls implying that an RFID sensor could imbue inanimate objects with a spiritual essence. Of course, the reality is just the reverse, because one of the underlying trajectories of all these sensors are human beings. Far from numbers enhancing the soul, putting a number onto a person all but denies it. The terrible evidence for this is still with us from our not too distant past.

  • wireless,
  • sensors,
  • grids,
  • automatic,
  • privacy,
  • surveillance,
  • uberveillance,
  • networks,
  • nodes,
  • soul,
  • spirit,
  • smart plannet,
  • smart grid
Publication Date
December 1, 2013
Publisher Statement
The original IEEE file is located here:
Citation Information
Katherine Albrecht and Katina Michael. "Connected: To Everyone and Everything" IEEE Technology and Society Magazine Vol. 32 Iss. 4 (2013)
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