We live in an amazing era of technology. The Internet has opened doors that have been dreamed of for years. By adding computing technology to everyday devices, like televisions, thermostats, appliances, and others, we’ve been able to automate many aspects of our daily life. The ideal experience might look something like this 50s ‘futurist’ promotional film entitled “Design For Dreaming”.
The idea of technology being embedded in every object around you is called The Internet of Things, and is one of the fastest growing areas of emerging technology. These days, manufacturers are adding Internet connection to all types of devices around you. One of the most famous examples is the Nest Thermostat [LINK]. This thermostat allows the user to adjust the temperature throughout the day, and eventually learns the user’s patterns, thereafter adjusting the temperature without intervention.
But there’s a dark side to this kind of technology, one that is becoming more visible as the technology goes through growing pains. In this article, we will discuss some of the major issues with putting a computer in every device you own (or don’t really own, as the case may be). We focus on the domestic space, rather than the industrial space, which has its own challenges and benefits. We discuss both the value and problems with adding an internet connection to a device that previously never needed an internet connection, including the reliance on a company to provide updates, security and privacy concerns, and finally judging the value that these additions provide.
A Historical Account of Four Women who Made the Internet of Things Possible
The Internet of Things as a field has been continuously growing since 1982, when it was first thought of. Such is its speed of growth, however, that according to predictions there will be over 50 billion devices as a part of the IoT by 2020. This makes it tempting, in speaking of the field, to only focus on its present and on its future development, but I reckon it is always wise to take a moment to also reflect on the past, and to remember the people who pioneered it.
An old and heteronormative saying claims that “Behind every successful man, there is a woman”. As a woman in CS myself, I don’t like that saying, but I espouse the thought of a similar one: “Behind every successful innovation, there is also a woman“. Given our modern ideals of gender equality and progress, it is not always enough to generically look back at the people who paved the way for the IoT; sometimes we have to specifically remember the media-overlooked women who did so, and to give them credit where it’s due.
The Internet of Things refers to the intelligent interconnection of various devices and machines to a larger network, or the Internet. While it comes with its own set of inherent risks, as does any technological innovation, it certainly aspires to make our lives simpler.
This was not the work of merely one man or one woman. The IoT came into existence because of the efforts of many different people, including women. Each person discovered or created something that enabled us to move one step closer to the Internet of Things as we know it today. For this simple reason, I have decided to dedicate this essay to not just one, but four different revolutionary female computer scientists, all of whom, I believe, were instrumental to the development of the IoT.
We keep hearing in today’s technology-driven world that advancements such as 3D printing, next-gen robots, and virtual reality are made everyday, but we often learn little about the real people behind these inventions. Instead, we are constantly exposed to false stereotypes such as “Women can’t code”, which is still not dead despite the increasing numbers of women who’ve succeeded in tech, currently and historically.
Notwithstanding their contribution, women continue to face discrimination in patriarchal societies, such as reduced opportunities for education, not being recognized as equal to men, and being prevented from holding high offices or posts that are stereotyped for men. What keeps women going forward in the face of this adversity is the sheer human determination to perform and excel.
The archetypal poster woman in this argument, Ada Lovelace, was one of the first programmers. She had written a program in English to operate Bernoulli’s numbers, which can be taken as our modern day ‘algorithm.’ But people ought to understand that she was hardly the only one! Women have always been present in the field, contributing every step of the way since even before the advent of modern computers, it’s just that their work has not been widely publicized.
An area where women have made a significant difference was advancing the now-fashionable Internet of Things (IoT), and in particular addressing privacy and security concerns that arise with it. First let’s understand what the IoT is all about.