The “internet of things” is made up of device networks—connected eyeglasses, thermostats, and even cows—with sensors and internet addresses. The latest smart televisions now watch us, and report on our behavior to their manufacturers. If you don’t pay the bills on your car loan, the bank may shut down your car while you are hiking in a park. The latest pacemaker may save your life, but the data on your heartbeats doesn’t belong to you or your doctor. Recently, a refrigerator was caught sending spam.
What will this omnipresent connectivity mean for the future of democracy? Soon, we will be fully immersed in a pervasive yet invisible network of everyday objects that communicate with one another. There is evidence that in authoritarian countries, the internet of things will be another tool for social control. Even in democracies, the privacy threats are enormous, as is the potential for political manipulation. Yet we should also imagine a future of global stability built upon device networks with immense potential for empowering citizens, making government transparent, and broadening information access. If we can actively engage with the governments and businesses building the internet of things, we have a chance to build a new kind of internet—and a more open society.
Phil Howard (right), Professor, University of Washington and Oxford University (@pnhoward)
Christopher Walker, Vice President, Research and Studies, National Endowment for Democracy (@Walker_CT)
with introductory remarks by
Mark Nelson, Senior Director, Center for International Media Assistance, National Endowment for Democracy, (@MarkNelsonCIMA)
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Phil N. Howard is a professor of technology and international affairs at the University of Washington and Oxford University. He is the author of eight books, including The Managed Citizen, the Digital Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy, and now Pax Technica: How the Internet of Things May Set Us Free or Lock Us Up. He is a frequent commentator on technology and politics for the national and international media. He blogs at www.philhoward.org and tweets from @pnhoward.