Originally published Times of Israel 10/10/2013

If you sometimes feel that people are just a little bit “too plugged in”, just wait, we are still just in the first hour of creation. What comes next is the best thing that has ever happened to the human race, and perhaps the worst. Here are some examples:

A driver approaching a four-way intersection as the light turns green starts to accelerate just as another car runs the red. While this would normally spell disaster new technology is being developed that may prevent accidents like this from happening.

This is the future of automobile safety – connected vehicle technology that learns, reacts, and, ultimately, saves lives. Connected vehicles will be able to communicate and react to stop signs or street lights in much the same way a computer speaks with a Wi-Fi network. Speed, location, and direction is collected and analyzed by devices embedded in the vehicle or operated via a Smartphone app to prevent dangerous situations. If the device receives any data pointing to a potential threat the driver will be warned to brake, slow down, or avoid changing lanes.

Does this mean that older or impaired people can legally drive? Or, will they have to wait until the Google Auto App is available which will do all the driving through millions of sensors and hundreds of connected GPS chips all the size of a pinhead that is worn or is embedded in their vehicle or even in their arm? That is all in the future. Look at what is available now or will be part of our lives very soon.

There is no longer need for a large sales force, ordering is done digitally from warehouse to warehouse. Similarly, your refrigerator will become the brain of the kitchen and will tell you what you need to stock up on or better yet will order it for you directly from the supermarket. It will also have the ability to control water consumption and even dishwashing.

Increasingly there will be little need for face-to-face socialization –the internet via Skype today, but significantly more enhanced in a few short years, is ideal for frail shut-ins or for long distance business meetings because it provides a way to stay in touch with the outside world. You can see the facial reactions of the person you are speaking with which is creating a flurry of excitement in the field of psychotherapy– teletherapy is now a reality.

School exams are progressively being more digitized and stored in the cloud. Children taking standardized exams in third grade will have their scores stored and easily compared to the scores they obtain all the way to and through college. Students, the schools they attend, the graduate programs they seek to attend and potential employers will all, in the next few years, have the ability to connect to this store of information. Professional and career opportunities may be restricted as a result.

            The key word in all of these dazzling examples is connected and not surprisingly, given the value of information, more and more things are being connected more and more. According to Cisco’s latest revelations, 80 devices per second, ranging from electric toothbrushes to garage openers are connecting to the Internet, and by 2020, 250 things will connect each and every second. For people who want to keep track of the number in “real time,” the company created the Cisco Internet of Everything (IoE) Connections Counter. The implications of this digital transformation are shocking.

            We should be amazed by all of the changes that are on their way. The future is astounding but it comes with a number of concerns. The more we advance technologically, the more we are vulnerable to intrusions. For example, we now know that pacemakers and insulin pumps are vulnerable to wireless attacks. We have yet to determine the value of medical information hacking but it is clear that every new device that becomes part of the IOE is vulnerable. Credit card information stored in supposedly secured computers are hacked into daily, and malls are tailoring advertising to individual customers just as internet search sites now do. Cable television providers and telephone companies now know more about individuals preferences than was ever thought possible and it does not take the NSA to uncover much of this information.

            Beyond the loss of privacy and vulnerability to hacking to the vast storehouses of the internet of everything there will likely be concomitant changes to individuals in any number of important but as of now not well-understood ways.

Socialization is one of the key components in people’s quality of life important for alleviating depression and isolation. The internet reduces this opportunity making it seem like socialization is unnecessary or even superfluous. What will be the impact on social skills when face-to-face socialization is reduced to the social network as is seen increasingly among youngsters? Will mood disorders tend to become more normative or will we see more narcissism as people tend to isolate more?

It’s not just about the loss of the ability to write cursive or learning the proper spelling of words or even correct grammar all of which are being increasingly done digitally, we are at an age when the IoE has begun to even reduce the need for memory. Have a Smartphone? Everything is stored in its memory! The impact on the Limbic system of the brain, that portion of our brain that mediates memory and emotion, has yet to be understood but we can guess at the possibilities. The amygdala and hippocampus, structures deep within the brain, are part of this system. In individuals who have been abused these structures seem to be smaller than average. It has been said that this shrinkage may lead to personality disorders. Will the same thing happen to all humans – if there is less of a need for these brain structures will they also shrink in size, will that result in personality changes too?

We, as humans, are nothing if not adept at evolving, but what are we evolving toward if we replace some very basic human functions like memory, social skills, even motivation.

Do we all have to be technology experts? No, but technology experts will be separated from the non-experts as a result of their access to this IoE storehouse creating a two tiered system that may ultimately have an impact on brain function, social skills and personality. This is the time to consider just how we react to the technological change that are happening at a maddening pace, before the changes change us in ways we may not understand and never be able to alter.


Image courtesy of bplanet at FreeDigitalPhotos.net