At the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES), attention turned once again to the Internet of Things (IoT) and personal devices. Wearables showed up in great profusion, focused upon watches, wristbands, and other personal sensors used to monitor activity rate, pulse, temperature, and whatever else can be determined from movement or simple surface sensors. For the home, measuring and control devices are emerging for temperature, humidity, intruder detection, and so forth — all attached, to personal networks, to the Web, and generally streaming data to external monitors. This all constitutes an escalation of device communications, which ultimately can lead to something like gamification of personal life and the home (Figure 1).
Figure 1 — The gamification of ordinary life.
Something that differentiates consumer devices from business and enterprise devices is the impact they have on the manner in which people live, their concerns, and how they occupy their time. The ability to immediately monitor a wide variety of characteristics and behaviors on an everyday basis and feed that back to a repository in the cloud inevitably creates an opportunity for control. This control may meet the objectives of the consumer, or it may be targeted to meet the objectives of a vendor. The opportunity for control is likely to become more significant as the IoT develops. Aspects of behavior become a part of a conversation.
For example, the operation of an air-conditioning system could be made to meet the efficiency goals of a vendor, or it could be made to meet the comfort goals of the user. Users might have ideas of resource expenditure, costs, or concerns about special issues such as climate control in an area holding climate-sensitive items. Vendors might wish to pare service costs or optimize energy use. Control of a sensor network could yield data that would be financially advantageous to physicians and insurance companies, or it could be used for the health benefit of the individual user.
Devices and sensors could also be used to modify user behavior. While control by a vendor for profit is likely to be perceived in a highly adverse way, the provision of credits or incentives on an automatic basis is not. So this provides a method by which companies may be able to achieve greater control of their processes by fine-tuning them against consumers without making consumers and potential customers angry or afraid.
The process of incentivization on a routine basis, particularly as provided through mechanical means, is related to gamification. Gamification is the use of techniques derived from computer games to enhance functions such as learning, retention, and process performance. These techniques include incentivization; levels of advancement; cooperative goal seeking; an underlying system of points that may be used for perks; challenges; and creation of a sense of fun and energy within the activities to which gamification is applied.
The IoT has great potential for companies to explore gamification in improving use of their products by customers and helping them to gain a better result. An initial example of this is in automobile monitoring devices used by insurance companies to lower insurance costs based upon feedback on driving. A similar possibility would be available with smart metering of electricity, with special incentives and promotions related to lower usage of electricity during certain periods of the day, for example. Smart thermostats and the like could be used to the same effect.
While incentives are certainly used in ordinary commerce today, they are seldom immediately connected to the behaviors of individuals and their equipment. It is easily argued that, when incentives are applied in this manner and mechanisms for obtaining and using those incentives similar to gaming become established, as they inevitably will, then gamification of ordinary life will have begun.
With the development of this new paradigm, it is possible to imagine a widespread change in how people interact with the environment. There is greater opportunity for control, albeit more on a psychological than upon a physical basis. But it also makes it possible for individuals to realize their own goals in combination with the tools they have installed. People will not become cogs in the machine, as was the common fear of the early 20th century; rather, they will become willing participants in a mechanism of control. Participation will be limited, at least initially. The incentives to participate are likely to be financial and social.
There are great opportunities here and there are great dangers. But this is one side of the IoT that has seldom been explored. The interaction of devices and sensors with everyday life is a part of a social network, and this needs to be better understood.