Digital Media & Culture: Collaborative Essay Collection 2018/The Internet of Things/Research Question 1: Media Maidens

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Are the threats and issues surrounding the Internet of Things creating a dystopian society?[edit]


Our culture is becoming increasingly reliant upon the Internet of Things. This is primarily to optimise the gadgets we have at our disposal in order to reduce costs, and help public services run smoothly. It is arguably an invasion that in order to be fully effective, controls aspects of our lives that have not yet been deemed possible. A modern 'dystopia' could describe a world where the majority of the population lack the ability to control their lives, a world where we are dependent on technology and rendered useless in its absence. It will become a world where these technologies reinforce and deepen inequalities without remorse and those at the top of the chain benefit the most, even being able to manipulate the technology we rely on to invade our privacy. In this essay we aim to prove that the negative impact of IoT will create a society of a dystopian nature.

Smart Cities, The Digital Divide and Elitism[edit]

Central Park Lake, Songdo IBD

Despite the fact that Smart Cities are often touted as the best way forward, especially for developing countries as a result of the implementation of certain practices in developed countries, there are factors that are worryingly overlooked which detract from the potential of Smart Cities to improve the lives of the general population, rather than just benefit the elite. This is mainly down to a concept called the 'digital divide', which in the simplest terms defines the discrepancy between those who can afford the technology to maintain an existence in an 'always-on' world, and those who cannot, and as a result often lack the skills to utilise it, even if they become upwardly mobile in the class system. This is to say that even when technology is inserted into the lives of the disadvantaged by the way of Smart City innovation, it is not necessarily beneficial to those who need it, as they are not familiar with the usage of such services. In the case of New York's 311 hotline, which provided access to government services via telephone, the method of contact appeared to circumvent the accessibility issues often flagged with mobile apps and online assistance, however statistics still proved that in the poorest areas of the city, calls to the hotline were far less frequent, especially in areas with a large minority population, which may be as a result of preconceived notions of government attitudes towards ethnic minorities, residents in particular geographical locations, immigrants and non-english speakers(Townsend, 2014)[1].

Even at the most accessible level inequalities prevail, which is only worsened by the intervention of more advanced technology. It's not hard to imagine that a city driven by technology will alienate those who do not have the means or experience to use it, or manipulate it for their own gain and growth- it's not hard to imagine that as a result, these people will be left behind. This is unmistakably clear in the cases of cities such as Singapore and San Diego, which both suffered greater divides in the wealth of their population during a significant technology boom- the rich became richer, as the impoverished suffered(Hollands, 2008)[2]. There's also the implications of a loss of employability for those who make their livelihoods from low-skilled pursuits, the necessity for which is disregarded by the streamlined nature of Smart Cities. For example in Songdo, Japan, the technological infrastructure of their waste disposal system means that only seven employees are needed to attend to the 35,0000 residents which inhabit it, resulting in a loss of work opportunities for working class citizens, ultimately ostracising more people from the proposed utopia it aims to become as a result of making income unattainable.

This is furthered by the gentrification of areas due to Smart City development, where residents are displaced from their homes to make way for a community designed for the elite, with the elite being those on the other side of the digital divide. Examples of this are unfortunately rife, especially for those who make a living in the agricultural industry. In Bangalore, India, 200,000 rural citizens have had their land taken from them with little compensation, and in Guragon, land is continuously being claimed by the state, displacing farmers and destroying their livelihoods, resulting in a greater density of population in informal housing in urban areas. The impact of this disruption is catastrophic for those who have built a life around their agricultural work, with India's suicide rate amongst farmers rising due to these changes(Watson, 2013)[3]. The clear prioritisation of a city created for the elite, over the wellbeing of the lower social classes is nothing short of dystopian. Even in the cases where alternative accommodation is provided, it does not go far enough to prevent the further disadvantaging of the impoverished. In Luanda, the capital city of Angola, people are being evicted from their homes and rehoused in satellite cities, or replacement matchbox houses with no vital facilities and miles away from work opportunities. Alternatively, the government have created another satellite city with apartment blocks, creating themselves a ghost town situation as the living cost of the new accommodation is out of reach for those who have been displaced[3]


Netflix’s show ‘Black Mirror’ is a perfect example of how being completely immersed in the Internet of Things can create a dystopian society. One episode in particular “Be Right Back” conveys the damage that technology can do if we were to occupy our whole lives within the internet. The episode is about the story of Ash and his girlfriend; Ash spends the majority of his life on social media and after he dies in a fatal accident, his girlfriend is referred to a service in which they use Ash’s social media profiles and his messaging apps to recreate his identity and it talks to her through her phone in a way that Ash would have really talked. (Brooker, 2013)[4] The intensity of her attachment to the nonentity of Ash that has become her phone creates a very thought-provoking story. It shows just how invasive and intrusive the internet can be to our privacy. We share so much on so many different platforms of social media that our information could be used to recreate a whole personality of ourselves. Even our Google searches are backed away so it can gather information about what we are interested in. This is frightening as it shows that technology can make fairly accurate assumptions about who we are as our privacy no longer exists when we are unknowingly yet so willingly inform social media of our information. There is no real separation between our authentic identity and the data we share with the online companies that we falsely trust (Maple, 2017).[5]

What is more alarming than our information being logged somewhere on the internet to be stored forever without our explicit consent, is what implications come with allowing such devices to have this data. Machine learning is a field of computer science that gives the computer systems the ability to “learn” through pattern recognition (Chaudhuri and Sarwate, 2013)Invalid <ref> tag; invalid names, e.g. too many. An example of machine learning is Google Photo’s facial recognition feature. In this case machine learning has allowed the device to detect the face of a specific person or a pet. There are now many smart devices that rely on machine learning. Technicians intend smart fridges to use computer vision technology to identify exactly what is contained in someone’s fridge so that the user will never again forget something when they take a trip to the shop. These inventions may all sound convenient to our daily needs, however there are still unanswered questions that remain about the privacy of our data that these devices collect. Who is this information available to? Whose data does this become ; does it still belong to the customer or is it now in the hands of the company’s? Do smart fridges have the ability to affect an individual’s life insurance with an insurance agency after close analysis of daily dietary habits? A device I have paid particular attention to is Amazon’s product Echo, more specifically the Echo Look. This product is very much like the Amazon Echo, but is focused on fashion and style. It captures pictures and videos of the user’s daily looks. Given time, the machine could learn its surroundings, and in a few years might even have the ability to understand, not just clothes, but people’s moods and even people’s bodies. These issues relating to customer privacy should always be asked when we invite an artificial intelligence into our lives (Barrett, 2017)[6]. Although these devices may deem safe for its users now, it is only a software update away from potentially becoming a bigger threat to our society. Cas00103 (discusscontribs) 12:33, 4 April 2018 (UTC)

Cybersecurity Attacks and Hacking[edit]

In a digital world where people, organisations, and businesses are turning to technology for everyday life responsibilities, relying on apps, websites, and online accounts to store valuable personal and private information, online confidentiality seems to be increasingly at risk. As the Internet of Things (IoT) networks and devices are growing in popularity, it appears more people are welcoming them into their homes and businesses into their systems and environments, therefore it is vital to expose the current and potential threats and issues surrounding the IoT and to reveal how they are contributing to a dystopian society.

As the IoT network constantly expands, the more data, devices and systems are being connected, making security and privacy at threat (Greengard, 2015)[7]. Cybersecurity attacks and hacking are becoming more common, ranging from ransoms to public health and safety. An example of this is the WannaCry ransomware attack in May 2017, that resulted in approximately 19,500 medical appointments within the UK NHS being cancelled[8]. This attack put thousands at risk, physically and personally, with their confidential information being at risk too. Other examples of IoT networks placing people in very dangerous positions include an attack in August 2017, that recalled over half a million St Jude Medical brand pacemakers due to hijacking and hacking fears. This incident placed hundreds of thousands of people not only in potential physical jeopardy but also caused a lot of anxiety and stress to those who feared for their lives.[9]

St Jude Medical pacemaker in hand

Business's and organisation’s data, however, is not the only aspect at risk of being attacked and stolen. With the development of IoT devices and networks such as smart fridges, smart speakers, etc, the idea of everything being linked and controlled in a home using just a remote or phone sounds ideal and luxurious but can be quite the opposite if these devices were hacked. “The ability to hack a video camera or a device such as Google Glass and view what a person or family is doing could not only put private lives on public display, it could offer a window into confidential records and data.” (Greengard, 2015). For example, there have been many cases in which baby monitors that connect to the internet and have cameras have been hacked and used to intrude on peoples’ children and homes.

In order to overcome these security threats, it is essential for manufacturers and developers to create more secure networks, as Greengard (2015) states “Today it’s necessary to deploy firewalls, malware detection, endpoint security, encryption, password management systems, network mapping and monitoring, and much more.” LaurenCC (discusscontribs) 23:07, 4 April 2018 (UTC)

Legal Issues of Physical Safety- Driverless Cars[edit]

Google's Lexus RX 450h Self-Driving Car

While essentially the IoT will create a great deal of freedom for our society, our legal rights appear to be under-developed. If this is the case then a Utopia cannot be the notion we are working towards. There are many examples of this, however, physical safety in terms of driverless cars is the example I will focus on. While looking into this topic, much uncertainty is evident concerning legislations focussed on protecting citizens. If laws regarding safety are not guaranteed, then imposing a life in which we rely on IoT is extremely damaging to our culture. It has also become prominent through my research that physical safety is not something taken into much consideration. Each source relating to this appeared to be focussed on privacy and security. This speaks volumes, demonstrating that not enough thought is put into legislation to protect citizens’ physical safety. An incident which resulted in a death caused by an autopilot car revealed that the company were not willing to take responsibility. They claimed that as the car was still in it’s trial period, it was essentially up to the driver to maintain control of the vehicle, therefore the blame was not placed on the machine. However, if this vehicle is not 100% safe, then it should not have been authorised to be driven alongside other cars. It should be test driven in a controlled environment until it can be confirmed to be as safe as a manually driven car. Looking at this as a moral issue. It is problematic to place blame on a machine. It cannot feel remorse, and no one technician can be put at fault. Ultimately, the person who is being driven in this car will feel guilt that should not be placed on them. If a car is driving itself then it is allowing the human brain to essentially switch off. Samuel Greengard discusses in his book deaths that have occurred by merely trusting the GPS over road signs(Greengard, S. 2015)[10]. If this can occur in such an instance, the results of a self-driving car would be catastrophic. In my opinion, being as focussed as someone who is actually driving would be physically impossible! If there is no legislation that explains where to place blame in such an instance, then how can compensation for death or injury be granted? A massive threat with these cars is that they are so easily tampered with; “The researchers also were able to disable the vehicle’s engine and brakes, control the steering wheel, and track the car’s GPS coordinates.” (Pittman, F. 2016) [11] This is horrifying! Driving cars into crowds is an act of terrorism that is occurring increasingly often. These technologies would make this even easier! Thankfully, thoughts are now being put into how legislation can be updated; “Under the proposed new measures, the rules would change, allowing for driverless cars to be insured and the Highway Code and associated regulations will be updated to support the use of driverless car features.”(Powell,M. 2016)[12] Therefore, there will be clear guidelines on this issue. It is also important to note that after the self-driving Uber incident, the Arizona governor is looking to postpone further testing on self-driving cars for Uber. This is necessary in order for the company to regain public trust. These actions are important, but updated legislation and government action will truly put the public’s mind at ease. There must be strict safety standards that companies have to meet in order to release their products into the public domain. Ultimately, in order to truly embrace all IoT offers, our human rights must be prioritised to ensure a free and safe society.

Artificial Intelligence[edit]

Description – the ability of computer systems to perform tasks normally requiring human intelligence. The term is commonly applied to the endeavour to develop systems that possess the intellectual processing characteristics of humans, such as the ability to reason, discover meaning, generalize, or learn from previous experience.

Research into Artificial Intelligence (AI) is advancing at a rapid pace, creating a high-stakes race with equally high-profile participants ranging from commercially-minded tech companies to military conscious governments. Everyday AI, encountered by the general public, can come in the form of personal assistant Siri, self-driving cars, or even my personal favourite, a computer winning the gameshow ‘Jeopardy!’. Streamlining our routines, completing tasks with incredible efficiency, the benefits are evident. However, are the potentially threats equally as clear?

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'Jeopardy!' contestants applaud their superior AI counterpart. Certainly a surreal visual, yet representative of AI's extensive capabilities.

Arguably the most commonly referred-to threat surrounding the topic of AI is the potential loss of jobs that may result from integration of automation. It’s undeniable that our modern economy has become reliant on computers, leading many to assume the inevitable next stage of progress is to introduce AI programs. This is evident in some areas as jobs involving “credit card applications, charge approvals and fraud detection are now done by AI programmes” (Russell and Norvig, 2010, pg.1034.). This may seem like a significant loss, guaranteed to spread to other jobs as technology advances. For some, it may even convey the inevitability of a future dystopian scene, featuring an unemployment epidemic. Russell and Norvig (2010) suggest this is an unjust premonition. They claim that “without AI these jobs would likely not feasibly exist, due to the required human labour adding an unacceptable cost to the task” (p.1034.). This notion is continued by emphasising that some jobs simply cease to exist over time, consumed by the efficiency of automation, no longer requiring a human to operate. Russel and Norvig (2010) further their defence by stating that AI has in fact “created more jobs than it has eliminated” and that AI has acted as the catalyst in creating “more interesting, higher-paying jobs”(p.1034.). Experts continue to disagree regarding the eventual severity of the impact that AI will have on human workforces, or even when this will largely occur. The one constant that all can unanimously agree upon is that career paths for future generations will be forever changed due the introduction of AI.

If dystopia is defined as a society that is ‘undesirable’ or ‘frightening’, there is no more fearful notion than losing your life to some form of AI. That however is exactly what’s taking place for several years. Autonomous AI systems are now commonplace on the battlefield. At one point the US had almost 20,000 aircraft and ground vehicles in Iraq, all with the capability to govern their own actions if required. The benefits are grim yet obvious. These weapons provide an offensive attack that can have no lethal repercussions to your side, yet devastating effects on the opposition. They do however pose the additional risk, of not yet being able to perfectly distinguish between the target and the killing of innocent citizens. Furthermore, considering the impact on a larger scale, the possession of powerful AI weapons “may give a nation overconfidence, causing it to go to war more recklessly than necessary” (Russell and Norvig, 2010, p.1035.). A sentiment that apparently has the backing of the current ‘poster-boy’ of the technology industry Elon Musk, who tweeted “Competition for AI superiority at national level most likely cause of WW3 imo” to his 20.7 million followers. Is the incorporation of AI simply the natural progression of continued warfare, or is it setting the stage for the perfect war-engulfed dystopia? With artificial intelligence still in its relative infancy, it’s another question that will require time to answer.

References Russell, S.,Peter. (2010). Artificial intelligence: A modern approach (Third Edition ed.) Pearson.

RowanHarp1 (discusscontribs) 23:49, 4 April 2018 (UTC)


While IoT networks and devices are being created with efficiency, luxury, and reliability in mind, it can be challenging to see past the benefits and advantages and truly comprehend the daunting and worrying threats and issues involved alongside. From smart cities struggles which put an emphasis on class divisions, privacy breaches, cybersecurity attacks and hacking resulting in public and personal predicaments, legal issues of physical safety (specifically self-driving cars), to artificial intelligence implications, the problems surrounding IoT are contributing to the overall idea that our world is becoming a modern dystopia. Upon reflection, it is clear that while this technology is remarkable and progressive, it is pushing our society towards a much less equal world, with less freedom, privacy and safety.

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