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The philosophy of IoT: Will it help or hurt?

Patrick Thibodeau | May 27, 2014
Big questions about the Internet of Things are on the agenda at a July conference

What are the implications of this change? The function of technology has always been to make human aspirations more obtainable by making tasks easier to perform. It's already been demonstrated that the brain maps tools as part of the body and not as separate entities, so our relationship with machines is already much more intimate than most people realize. IoT offers us a level of automation that will bring us into closer working relationships with machines and AI. IoT technology has the potential to allow us to live more sustainable lives, predict and treat illness, as well as automate certain forms of labor. Some of this will have a positive effect, some of it may not. The potential is great, the value of the reality lies in its implementation -- hence the need to ask philosophical questions now.

Can you imagine a world where people have genuine emotion for machines, robotics in particular? And if that's possible, should those machines then have rights of some type? I think people already do have emotional attachments to machines. For example, how much do you love your smartphone? Should machines have rights? I'm not against this idea at all. This comes down to a wider and deeper debate around what constitutes life and sentience. One need only think about how harshly human beings have treated other human beings because of difference of sex, race, color and/or creed to see how narrow minded we can be as a species about the lives of others. If we add to this thinking how we treat animals, then this point is made even more obvious.

What do you hope this conference accomplishes? We need to find the language and ideological frameworks to consider and debate the potential impact of IoT technologies upon our lives and upon the planet. We need these debates to have currency, not only in academia but also industry and policy. The conference is a step towards achieving these things.

What can people who deploy, develop and work with technology gain from considering the philosophical issues associated with it? The answer to that is very simple: a better world for themselves, their families and friends by making systems that work to encourage the expansion of human knowledge and experience rather than simply things that make our lives more efficient. Efficiency is not necessarily better for us as beings.

Is this conference just for academics, professional philosophers? Can technologists, people in the industry, attend and participate as well? The conference is open to all and we've made a point of making the conference tickets affordable to try and encourage as many people as possible from industry, government, academia and any other walk of life to come and join in the discussion.

 

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