In the Future, Will the Internet Know Too Much About Us?

A comic strip appeared on the projection in front of the 2013 Grow Conference crowd. A couple of dogs are sitting at a computer with the caption saying, “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.” The crowd chuckled as a light anxiety passed through the room—what does the Internet know that we don’t? What will it know in the future?

Manager Partner at Relay Venture, Kevin Talbot led the two Internet experts, Jef Holove, CEO at Basis and Alex Hawkinson, founder of SmartThings through a sometimes dark and sometimes bright discussion about the future of the Internet.

“It’s becoming possible to connect anything to the Internet,” said Hawkinson. “With macro pictures there will be a digital representation of the entire physical world at some point.” Hawkinson added, “If you unlock the digital version of [a lock] the real one will unlock. And it is this intertwining real world and digital version that will let you control the whole world with software.”

Control and knowledge is something we all yearn for, especially concerning stuff we care about. With new sensory technology collecting data onto the Internet, the environment around us will soon be a whole lot smarter. Our houses will know when we are asleep, our pedometers on our watches will let us know how many calories to eat and our phones will recognize our habits and behaviours to serve us better on our every day commutes.

Although the science fiction-like future is getting closer every second, many still wonder if the general public is prepared to embrace a life with the quantified self inside a connected home?

“The consumers we are talking about aren’t thinking about connected devices or the Internet of things per say,” said Holove. “But they are thinking about their problems. And like all of us they are looking for solutions for those problems. The magic is that we can make what we do more and more relevant to them.”

A picture of the Terminator then pops up on the screen. The fantasy of technology doing our bidding faded briefly as we consider whether this worry-free way of living is actually so.

“Each technology wave has benefits and risks,” said Hawkinson. “If the benefits out weigh the risks—then it tends to be inevitable. But this is one of the most profound.”