By Amelia Tarallo
Hometown Weekly Staff
David Stephenson, a former resident of Medfield, returned to town to give a talk about his book, “The Future is Smart,” and his thoughts on the constant changes occurring due to our love, and sometimes dependence, on the Internet of Things.
The Internet of Things refers to the extension of internet connectivity into everyday objects that once had no such capabilities.
“I’m from Medlis,” Stephenson said before beginning his talk. “My house is in Millis, but my heart is in Medfield.” The talk was part of the Medfield Library’s recent author talk series that has brought a variety of writers to Medfield.
In the eyes of David Stephenson, nothing is impossible when it comes to the internet.
Stephenson began his talk by discussing perhaps the most unexpected technologically-evolved item there is: a trash can. “Behold the municipal trash can,” Stephenson said. He went on to explain that the simple street trash cans are a thing of the past. Instead, the trash cans we see every day now include sensors, wifi, and even help provide information to improve trash pickup schedules, and thus improve the cleanliness of our streets.
One of the most impactful improvements of this new internet-revolving world is the speed with which researchers can retrieve data. “We had no way of getting information back from the field,” said Stephenson. Now, in seconds, the trash cans we see every day can send a message that they’re full and that a pick-up needs to be scheduled.
Stephenson went on to explain that there are four essential truths of the internet, the first being that privacy and security must be prioritized.
The second truth is that data must be shared rather than hoarded. Stephenson gave an example from the year 1789, when the idea of computers didn’t even exist. It was illegal to take a Arkwright spinning wheel or its plans out of England, because their existence gave the country such a profound technological advantage over the rest of the world. Sam Slater, a young mechanic, memorized the plans, moved to the United States, and built his own mill in Rhode Island. By sharing this knowledge, the United States could grow its mill businesses and decrease their dependency on Europe.
Stephenson gave a more modern example from his own life. His wife doesn’t like coming home to a dark house when she returns from work. Yet, because of data sharing and modern networking, Stephenson could be on the other side of the world and still turn on all the lights at his house.
In the modern era, this sort of shared information and remote connectivity has improved the lives of customers everywhere.
A third truth stipulates that linear-path products must turn cyclical. To explain this, Stephenson recalled how manufacturers once would create products, send them off to the purchaser, and then never hear about how they functioned again unless someone called to complain or order a new one. Everything about the product, from its lifespan to how it handled wear and tear, was a complete mystery to the person who made it. “Communication was one-way, extremely limited, and linear,” explains Stephenson in his book. Now, taking full advantage of the Internet of Things, many products are capable of “phoning home” and providing this once-hidden data back to their point of origin. Manufacturers need to speed up how they receive data and improve how they use the information they receive.
The fourth and final truth is the changing of roles in products. Because of this new line of communication between customers and manufacturers, companies can now use technology to fix problems quicker than ever before. Stephenson utilized an example of how Tesla recently used this newfound ability to communicate to fix a problem with their cars. As the owners were asleep, Tesla issued an update that fixed the problem, eliminating the usual step of the owners receiving a recall notice and coming in to have it fixed.
The Internet of Things has led to some of the fastest and greatest changes in our lives. It has both made our lives safer, with automatic lights and car updates, but can also leave our personal information susceptible to theft if not handled carefully. The future of the Internet of Things is about as known as what exists at the deepest points of the ocean.
One thing is for sure, though: it has great potential for both good and bad.
It all depends on how we choose to use it.
David Stephenson’s book, “The Future is Smart: How Your Company Can Capitalize on the Internet of Things - and Win in a Connected Economy,” is available on Amazon.