Hello Lamppost – talking to things needs open data
The internet of things, automation and robotics - all of which are shaping the future of work- depend on access to data, and open data is at the heart of the piece.
You may not be that interested in databases and information systems because your work does not revolve around them but open data, as far as the 'open' part, does not sit alone in isolation from the rest of life.
Among other context surrounding open data there is a whole 'open agenda' – open government, open education, open research, open access, open knowledge, open source.
All these 'opens' cross over with each other. Thinking about all this, all at once, in a practical and useful way is almost impossible and so quite sensibly those with interests in specific areas stick to those areas, going one step at a time in 'opening up'.
One of the reasons I feel that we should be taking a close look at open data, however, relates to the development of the 'Internet of things' - defined by Wikipedia as 'the interconnection of uniquely identifiable embedded computing devices within the existing Internet infrastructure'.
Typically the Internet of Things (IoT) is expected to offer advanced connectivity of devices, systems, and services that goes beyond machine-to-machine communications and covers a variety of protocols, domains, and applications.
The interconnection of these embedded devices is expected to usher in automation in nearly all fields, while also enabling advanced applications.
People are becoming quite comfortable with talking to things, and technology is moving inexorably towards enabling 'things' to talk to each other. Talk, which is in effect exchanging or communicating data.
Hello Lamppost was a project produced by WATERSHED and designed by PAN, which took place in Bristol. Essentially it provided a platform to play with the local environment (for 2 months during the summer of 2013) to talk to every day items of street furniture, via twitter (Lampposts and such like have unique numbers that can be used as identifiers).
Great fun. Sadly, I was neither in Bristol at the time nor on twitter, but the point is, people engaged and proved more than willing to talk to things!
The fun was in the conversation, the next step for the internet of things is for your 'things' to talk to someone else's 'things' or for you to. This is where data is collected. Then the question is, whose data is it?
This is a question that is often quite difficult to answer and for a number of reasons. Whose is the technology that enables this interaction? Who is paying for it? On whose property is this interaction taking place? Who benefits? Who is generating this data? and so on!
It is us, the public as individuals and groups, whose actions are somewhere in this equation. Let's take the lamppost for example. Why not, it was the 'thing' most people talked to after all.
Lampposts are in a unique position. They are situated in nearly every urban street. They already play host to CCTV quite effectively, but what if they were used as sensors for other things, such as crowd movements, air quality, localised weather?
In most instances councils own lampposts, but do they buy sensors? Do they sell the lampposts or rent them out so others can put up sensors? The information from these sensors is created by the general public, but who should benefit? How?
If we do not think about what data should be made open as these scenarios develop, then the question of whose data it is will become more complicated as the scenarios become more sophisticated.
In fact, if we the public have paid to enable this to happen and have in fact contributed to it's creation, then part if not all the data should be open.
We are already bombarded with how valuable it is to be connected and how data is the 'new' gold. But big questions have to be asked. Some call this connectivity quite literally a movement towards a 'second renaissance'; I am not quite sure if they are using the term correctly but I understand the premise.
What we have is advancing technology that generates big philosophical questions about how society should work, coupled with necessary pragmatic interest groups that are thinking things through to enable advancement.
This is why I find myself on the one hand reading Jaron Lanier, a philosopher and computer scientist, on how we need to rethink our economies and create a democratic information economy, and on the other hand blogs by Rufus Pollock - economist, founder and President of Open Knowledge.
To continue opening up, there first has to be a definition of what open is, and, indeed, the definition has been recently refined from the one originally published by Open Knowledge. The reasons why such a definition is important are explained in Rufus Pollock's recent blog. In essence three reasons - quality, compatibility and simplicity.
But questions about whose data it is and what is to be open should not just be made by those who know about how all this tech works. They should be made by those affected, and they need to know about those big philosophical questions too.
Jaron Lanier's latest book 'Who owns the future?' firstly lays out the scenario of what would happen should we not consider the question of data ownership.
The concentration of power would shift to the future 'Googles' of the world who hold all our data, use it and manipulate, resulting in an extreme economy with no middle class occupations.
He then develops an argument for an information economy where everyone earns something from their data or work. Where it has to be acknowledged that nothing is free but where everyone is paid for using the internet.
One future scenario Lanier considers is the collapse of Facebook or a future 'facebook' that holds all data about you and your life. Would such companies become like the banks of the 21st Century, 'too big to fail'?
The concept of open data has to be considered throughout all these developing internet of things scenarios, plans, applications, etc. As it is only then that those involved, as creators, customers and participants will start considering ownership.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Information Daily, its parent company or any associated businesses.
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