All of this technology, that is emerging in the energy sector, is empowering the consumer to make decisions based on various values– this could be economic for a particular household, a way of life that is particularly green, or a multiplicity of thresholds more to do with equity and social e-inclusion towards collective awareness. If I have and my neighbour does not I can share my slice of the pie, if I so choose.
While all of this sounds particularly cool and snazzy, the connected home, automation and voice activated environments, smart metering, and redistribution, deep down we need to think about the steps we are taking forward and why and how this data will be used for and against us. On the one hand, people who can afford it are bursting to technify further their lives- they cannot get enough. I spent hours yesterday listening to people who I would consider DIYers, video blogging their Internet of things home. The story goes something like this: my Google nest’s connected to my Google home, my Google home’s connected to my Philips Hue, my Philips hue's connected to my Amazon echo, Dem Internet of Things, of Things, Of Things.
It seems ladies and gentlemen, some of us cannot get enough. I do get the massive revolution that will occur and IS occurring, making homes more energy efficient when consumers can make decisions about their energy use based on their own data in the form of a dashboard. But the truth of the matter is while we are going to some very smart solutions, LED-based lighting which uses so much less power than our conventional lightbulbs, you need to think about how many of these sensors – lighting, audio, image, temperature, among many others, will proliferate into everyday disposable objects. What will happen to these products? They find themselves in another e-waste land somewhere in Asia or South America or Africa? I personally do not see the point to having 60 million colours being able to transform with mood, ambience, music tone, and context. But we seem to be distracted by what I call the illusion of choice. The V blogs I was referring to, demonstrate the time wasted, and energy wasted both power and human energy, and figuring out combinations of things. It seems we are being distracted by the possibilities and not by the end goal.
To say this in another way I’ve been pondering how we are so preoccupied with the data and making sure we monitor human activities to determine context that we are missing the point. Energy efficiency has been proven not so much to come from changes in human behaviour which are very difficult to enact because of limited rewards and the novelty effect, but from better engineering design in white goods and other tools, especially in industry, that bring down energy usage on a larger scale. We need to think about this when we do place our faith in industrial robotics that can indeed run for 24×7×365 days a year. But what about the economic cost and the cost of maintenance? Are we simply shifting human labour operational costs, to the completely automated factory?
Perhaps what I am alluding here to is the potential to fall into the crisis, and Cambridge University has a research group dedicated to catastrophic risk – to fall into the crisis that we are actually trying to get a grasp of through various means. So I disburse sensors everywhere in a bid to get feedback and to have a pulse on what is going on right down to the grassroots level, for instance I even chip trees and fauna, but in so attempting to quantify absolutely everything before us we are forgetting to qualify what is going on. Put in other terms here are wrestling with climate change issues, when most of us see climate change happening every single day of our life. If we’re not careful, we will one day come out with that beautiful spreadsheet, those nice curves, about specific details on climate change and how they are affecting our planet but by that time it may well be too late because we are in that catastrophic period and things start to become a little more difficult – and what I am alluding to here are things that have been well studied by scholars in the field, including population change, fisheries and access to grains, clean drinking water and so much more.
Ladies and gentlemen we cannot eat technology but we can eat seeds as they grow and become something we can consume. We cannot drink silicon, but we can drink clean water. For the time being a great number of our global population is dying very young because they do not have access to pure water. I reflect back to studying this phenomena in high school but while wage rates have improved in developing nations, I can say we have only made minimal improvements when we describe things like access to water. So to be guiding you today as a technologist, down a path of investing in technology alone, well, that would be very shortsighted of me. I would invest in very basic needs for human survival, albeit in the seed industry and in clean water or at least in wastewater recycling methods and even somehow extracting phosphorus from waste. These are just a couple of examples I describe. And if you do not believe me as a layperson in the field of finance, then perhaps you could listen to some of the directions advised by technologists like Bill Gates. This does not mean we abandon technology, obviously not, but we need to find a balance.
One thing is for certain, having lived through and worked through one of the most rapid periods of change, and I might add change is ever more rapid, we also need to do something about this notion we call planned obsolescence. It is great to have new ideas, it is great to have kickstart a funding, it is great to be the next Google, but with these discoveries comes to social responsibility. The mantra do no evil or do no harm is no longer one that is openly disclosed by organisations, because they cannot promise in any event and with any certainty that their production will do no evil and will do no harm. Our environment is bleeding, whether through human made disaster knowing or a knowing or through acts of God, or calculated greed-- we need to personally enact change in our own lives but also ensure that we are traversing down the path of renewal and sustainability. What I don’t want to see is this topic future where smart metering means that energy providers can act to manipulate consumers in even more pervasive manner, where variable pricing means no one is better off anyway, and tariffs are set in a way with service providers can only win win. This is again propelling a generation, an all-you-can-eat generation, and one that just can’t see the signs had.
“When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘It’s going to rain,’ and it does. 55 And when the south wind blows, you say, ‘It’s going to be hot,’ and it is. 56 Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time? (Luke 12:54-56)
I do like DARPA’s Near Zero Power RF and Sensor Operations (N-ZERO) program that has been working to overcome the power limitations of persistent sensing by developing wireless, event-driven sensing capabilities that would allow physical, electromagnetic and other sensors to remain dormant—effectively asleep yet aware—until an event of interest awakens them. To achieve these goals, the program intends to develop underlying technologies to continuously and passively monitor the environment and activate an electronic circuit only upon detection of a specific signature, such as the presence of a particular vehicle type or radio communications protocol. N-ZERO seeks to exploit the energy in signal signatures to detect and recognize attention-worthy events while rejecting noise and interference. Source
But we must be cognizant that such N-ZERO initiatives are also potential intrusions into human behaviours, that until now have been private. Ladies in gentleman it is the first time in human history that we are inviting third parties into our homes to monitor what we do, and to listen to our home conversations. Trust has never been more important in governments, in service providers, and even in ourselves to do the right thing. Deep down for me personally this becomes a human rights issue. How can we go forward knowing what we must do is essential for our environment and the longer term survival of our planet with the risks that we face individually and collectively? I would encourage investment in green computing and clean computing. And this is not just at the lightbulb level but all the way back to the core and edge of the network architecture and evil even the ripple effect requirements of data storage in containers, racks and buildings. Perhaps a topic we can discuss throughout the day, thank you.