Even today most people are not yet familiar with the concept of the Internet of Things. People without a technical background find it hard to imagine what the abbreviation IoT even means. Yet many have come into contact with it – at times without being aware of the fact. Connected devices have long sneaked into our daily lives: domestic appliances, for example, that operate when electric power is plentiful. Another example is cars that call the emergency number automatically when an accident happens. The smart watch or fitness tracker on your wrist and parcel tracking on the Internet. The list could be continued effortlessly.
This rising omnipresence of connected objects confronts us with totally new questions: How will we get around in this connected world? And what influence will connecting everyone and everything have on society? A foretaste is provided by M2M solutions that are addressing current societal challenges. They demonstrate on a small scale how the Internet of Things will affect our society overall.
Assistance in old age
Take, for example, demographic change. According to the United Nations, in 2050 there will for the first time be more people aged over 60 than under 15. In 64 countries senior citizens will then make up more than a third of the population. That will lead to a rising demand for medical care. Digital technologies are increasingly being used to cope with the high costs and the pressure of expectations where healthcare is concerned.
Ambient assisted living systems for senior citizens are a case in point. By means of sensors they record vital signs, recognize falls or other domestic emergency situations, and automatically notify an emergency call center if required. Older people will thereby in the future be enabled to live in their accustomed surroundings for longer. Patients with chronic diseases will benefit in much the same way. Connected devices will assist them with their regular dosage of drugs, with checking their own health and with keeping to dietary plans without needing to leave their accustomed surroundings. It is not yet clear what influence applications of this kind will have on the doctor-patient relationship. People are largely agreed that virtual visits are no substitute for a direct encounter with the doctor. Views differ, however, on whether they will enrich the doctor-patient relationship or lead to a distancing.
Reorganization of work
Changes on the employment market cannot be dismissed out of hand, however. Economists argue whether Industry 4.0 causes job losses. Most believe that the benefits and opportunities of networked objects will more than offset these risks. Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee see in this development a fundamental paradigm shift. In their book “Race against the Machine” they outline in this connection the historic development of horses as working animals. Horses have been displaced successively by steam-powered and, finally, by combustion-engined vehicles. Had the market continued to rely on horses, prices would soon be so low that they would no longer even be enough to feed the animals.
What can be automated will be automated
Assuming that human labor is set to become superfluous to a similarly dramatic degree, what will that mean for society? How will goods be distributed in the future? How will communities be funded? We do not need to answer these questions yet. Many experts agree that the unmanned factory will be an illusion for decades to come. But the trend is clear. What can be automated will be automated. How this changes our society is in our own hands.