What’s the most important impact of the ubiquity of smart and connected technology in our lives?

“What has been or will be the most important impacts of increasingly prevalent smart and connected technology in our lives, including in the home, in the workplace and in our towns and cities, and are they necessarily better than current systems?” This is the question that the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee posed last summer, as part of its consultation on the impacts of the increasing prevalence of smart and connected technology and what needs to be done to ensure it is safe and secure for its users.

When preparing evidence to submit to the DCMS’s consultation, two colleagues and I brainstormed how smart technology had impacted us (positively and negatively) as individuals, at home, in the workplace, in our towns, and so on. The conclusion was that the most important impact of smart technology has been the datafication of daily life, with all the opportunities and threats that it creates. Here is the reasoning underpinning our claim.

The main feature that distinguishes smart devices from any other devices that serve the same functional purpose (e.g., smart vs non-smart car) is the collection and transmission of data, over an internet connection. Smart technology can collect and transmit data about how it is used and about its context of use, with little or no interference from users. Some devices can also interact with each other, with no human interference, and learn from each other (e.g., self-driving cars).

Accordingly, the most important impact of smart technology has been the datafication of daily life – i.e., the collection of data about most human and non-human (e.g., performance of machinery) activities. This collection sometimes occurs without the intervention – or even awareness – by those about whom data are being collected.

At the individual level, access to a continuous flow of granular and timely data fuels a desire to optimise performance (e.g., health and fitness) and productivity. But datafication also exposes individuals to privacy risks.

In the workplace, datafication enables evidence informed decision making (e.g., pre-emptive maintenance, or designing workers’ shifts); and creates opportunities for innovation. However, it also changes the number and nature of jobs, and is leading to professional alienation.

In our towns and cities, datafication can support the achievement of UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, such as enhancing the environment by expending the circular economy. However, that comes with the risk of uncontested surveillance.

You can find our full reply, here.

Do you agree that datafication of daily life is the biggest impact of the popularisation of smart products?

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