IoT designs will need the human touch - Embedded.com

IoT designs will need the human touch

Douglas McGregor is most notably remembered for his revolutionary Theory Y, which contends that individuals are motivated, capable of assuming responsibility, and ready to direct their behavior toward organizational goals; and Theory X, in which employees must be persuaded, rewarded, punished, and controlled.

A core tenet of his influential thinking on “the human side of enterprise,” which was first presented in a speech at MIT's Sloan School of Management in April 1957, could perhaps best be summed up as humans are not robots and their motivations and aspirations should matter in the design of effective industrial organizations. His seminal talk concluded with the following ominous remarks that could just as easily apply to the Internet of Things (IoT):

The ingenuity and the perseverance of industrial management in the pursuit of economic ends have changed many scientific and technological dreams into commonplace realities. It is now becoming clear that the application of these same talents to the human side of enterprise will not only enhance substantially these materialistic achievements but also will bring us one step closer to the 'good society.' Shall we get on with the job?

IoT has been defined as “a global infrastructure for the information society . “  Within this vision, “things” (e.g., everyday objects or machines ) and people are interacting, whether this interaction takes place between things and things or things and people, through the Internet anywhere, anytime. As a result of these ambitious goals, the IoT technological challenges are substantial and cannot be assumed away.

However, it is becoming growingly evident that for the IoT to take off at a speed and scale touted by enthusiastic visionaries, it must, paraphrasing McGregor, apply the same talents used into the transformation of “technological dreams” into reality to the “human side” of the IoT. For example, we are now able to track and monitor physical assets almost anywhere in the world, a remarkable technological feat, which was still a matter of science fiction not too long ago. Yet, there is a definite uneasiness, if not suspicion, about the Internet of Things among those who fear it could accelerate a big brother state. The human side of IoT requires a lot of attention.

Recent public consultations by the European Commission and the US Federal Trade Commission have highlighted the importance of security and privacy. Even ethics (i.e., we know we can do it, but should we? ) is becoming part of the IoT conversation.

But the range of human issues surrounding IoT extends well beyond the critical aspects of security, and privacy. In a work report  on IoT privacy, data protection, and information security following the above-mentioned consultation, the European Commission emphasizes that “building trust in the online environment is key to economic developmen t” and adds that it “is especially true in the area of new technologies like the IoT, which will only be able to develop their full economic potential, when individuals trust and adopt these technologies.

uTRUSTit,  a collaborative project supported by the European Union, is an example of the initiatives aimed at bridging the technological and human sides to enable the user to trust IoT systems: “uTRUSTit will develop a secure, trustworthy, legally compliant and accessible toolkit and thereby close the loop of trust between the technological and psychological layers in the IoT .”

In order to establish the foundation for trust in the IoT, we must increase the global awareness of the IoT's potential, capabilities, and role as a positive transformational agent in society, and a catalyst for innovation, ecological sustainability, and growth. Social acceptability is contingent upon social understanding.

Educating and training the current and future workforce are also key elements of the IoT human equation.

IoT technologies cover an extensive spectrum of disciplines with which an IoT engineer must be familiar. This is an important aspect that is not overlooked by the National Science Foundation who commissioned a study by the US Computer Science and Telecommunications Board (CSTB) that will articulate a vision for a 2lst century Cyber Physical Systems (CPS)–capable US workforce through its Toward 21st-Century CPS Education project.  CPS arguably provides the engineering foundation for IoT applications.

The CSTB, while focusing its study on undergraduate education, is also considering implications for graduate education, workforce training and certification, community colleges, the K-12 pipeline, and informal education. Furthermore, in addition to the skills needed for the CPS scientific, engineering, and technical workforce, CSTB will consider broader needs for CPS “fluency.” Since the Internet of Things will transform the way goods are marketed, sold, and serviced, both producers and consumers must be educated and prepared accordingly.

More generally, business operations and business models will have to be revisited to take into account IoT's broad range of possibilities. Customers will become an integral component of the “smart factories” (smart manufacturing). Information management will be revamped to process and optimize the enormous flow of data generated by IoT technologies.

Service level agreements (SLAs) will need to allow for security and privacy. Revenue streams will include recurring income going to (possibly multiple) application providers in addition to the initial device purchase (of increasingly lesser importance). Given the myriad of IoT-driven interconnections, companies will be led to partner with members of the ecosystem with which they may otherwise compete (“cooperative competition” or “coopetition”).

Legal, policy, and regulatory frameworks must be addressed as well. Data ownership and the related obligations need to be clearly delineated. For instance, in the healthcare market, there is no question that telemedicine (telehealth) has the potential to become integral to effective care strategies. However, non-technological issues such as licensure of doctors, malpractice liability, and provider reimbursement, at least in the United States, stand in the way of widespread acceptance. Progress has been made, but much remains to be done.

What comes first? People and technology are obviously intertwined, but the human side is the cornerstone on which IoT must be built.

Alain Louchez is leading a global initiative at the Georgia Institute of Technology focusing on the development and application of Internet-of-Things technologies.

This blog has also been published on EETimes. 

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