Technology For The Privileged

Will technology improve life for everyone or just a privileged few? Understanding some of the implications should become part of product planning.

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What happens when something grows quickly? It normally results in progress that is a little uncontrolled. There are no rules to govern it, there is no clearly defined end point, there is nothing that is absolute. That was the focus of the keynote given by Stacey Higginbotham at Arm TechCon.

We can all see the good and the benefits that will come from progress, but we also get glimpses of what could go wrong. Unfortunately, this, like everything else, is driven by money and not altruistic intent. The keynote focused on the IoT and on what happens when we get to a trillion sensors. In short, it affects everything both on the technology side and on the human side and the implications are often way beyond our ability to think about.

Forgive me as I sidetrack for a moment. When I first came to the U.S., I moved to Silicon Valley and was eager to be part of the start-up scene. I loved being where it was all happening. But along the way, I became somewhat disillusioned. Every day began to feel like an unwinnable rat race to me. Everyone was so busy trying to get the next release out, the next product finished, the next company started that quality of life suffered. I spent countless nights when I did not see my bed, and for what? Every one of them was a fire drill and I question if any of them really mattered in retrospect. I realize for some that this is the adrenalin buzz that drives them but for me I got burned out on it, the traffic problems, the housing quality, the franticness of everything.

So, I moved to Oregon and slowed down a little. I lived out of town, had a fairly short drive into work, but still remained close enough to a city that I felt connected to it. I managed to see things from a distance, kind of like watching a movie, and yet still being an actor in it. Two years ago, I moved to the Oregon coast, completely away from the cities and technology companies. Now I spend my days looking out at the ocean, being concerned about the levels of trash on the beaches, the changing climate and the effect that is having on the wildlife. I watch the perpetual fight of nature as one population grows and the effects it has on another, and I marvel at the way every day is different in subtle ways.

One of the things I also really enjoy about living there – no cell phone service. That’s right. My smart phone is dumb most of the time. Sure, I still have Internet, but now I no longer have an interrupt-driven lifestyle. I am also glad that there are no sensors popping up except for the ones I install and then it is done because I want the benefit of it. I have my own cloud. Basically, I don’t trust companies based on all of the data theft going on and nobody cares to solve it, nobody is willing to put money into making information about me private, secure and able to be controlled by me. This is not MY IoT, this is the IoT for the commercial benefit of a few companies.

I know I can’t stop it, but I don’t have to actively embrace it either. There are major parts of the world that do not have cell phone service and that is not their choice – it is the choice of commercial companies who have decided that they don’t offer enough commercial benefit. Stop for a minute and think about other aspects of the IoT that will only be available to a choice few people. It will magnify the divide between those who have and those who have not and it is not always their choice. This may be because of geography, it may be because of income or one of a number of other reasons. As technology becomes more inserted into cities, how much will it disadvantage rural dwellers?

I have seen how certain financial instruments that I originally thought were a good idea are actually instruments that deprive poor areas of incomes and transfer them to richer areas. One example is timber REITs. They have moved taxes that were paid to the counties that have the timber to the pockets of investors who are much more likely to live in cities. My county lost 60% of their forestry revenues because of REITs. In the past, I have owned them myself and had no idea about the implications of them.

When considering what new laws should be put in place to control information and the IoT, we should also consider the implications for the ways in which it may divide society. Almost everyone reading this will be one of the chosen few who will have everything available to them, but I encourage you all to stop and think about what happens when a new technology is introduced that will not be universally available. Will the lack of it be something that divides people, makes one more employable, makes their quality of life better or their health better? Will it improve the world for everyone or just for the chosen few? I do not want to be negative about technology and I have made choices which separate me from others, but that was my conscious choice. What about those who do not do it as a choice? Are we being fair?



  • realjjj

    It’s much worse than that , look at Google’s hardware or Apple, they target the top 500 million richest people, not the top 3-4B at least.
    The majority of the US industry behaves like this and even when they go wider, the focus is still the top 5-10% of the global population..In part it’s because the people making and selling the products are completely out of touch , just living in America makes them very rich and it’s hard for them to understand the world.
    IoT and its benefits are well overhyped , there are far more important segments. Look at transportation or energy, education and agriculture.
    In smartphone AP, American companies were all focused on high the high end and most of them failed (TI, Intel, Nvidia, Broadcom)). A the same time, Mediatek and Spreadtrum grabbed the low to mid market in a blink of an eye.There are opportunities in seeing the potential of the entire market not just the high ASP market.
    A 1000$ laptop is for the world what a gold platted toilet is for America but Google, Apple or Microsoft will never understand how ridiculous they are by even considering making such a product.

    • Brian Bailey

      Thanks for your thoughts. Money certainly sets people apart but access to technology is another barrier. As an example – everyone wants to use mobile for second factor authentication these days and that does not work for me, especially if they give you just a few seconds or minutes to enter it. I have to drive to get a signal!

  • Dennis Brophy

    Brian, While not purposely ignoring your call to recognize the have/have not divide, I don’t know if your smartphone is dumb or just waiting for you to enable the WiFi Calling switch. Since you remain Internet connected, you might want to try this out and use your Internet provider to make and receiive calls vs. a mobile carrier when home. Sorry to drag you back to the 21st century!