Shifting our IoT perspective: what’s Maslow got to do with the IoT?

Jim Hunter, chief scientist, Greenwave Systems

Now is an exciting time to be in the Internet of Things (IoT) space with innovation and growth abounding. Unfortunately, this has led to confusing messages for the average consumer. Technology seems to lead to discussions around the IoT and, while techies rejoice, real consumers seem confused. As an industry – with a few notable exceptions – we haven’t really done a good job at showing how the IoT can become a valued personalised ally to us as individuals. Perhaps we should consider shifting our perspective? 

What if we considered ‘things’ as if they were people?  We have established paradigms for all aspects of human interactions – what if we considered applying those to our things?

Let’s start by looking at the definition of a thing – and by leveraging the work of my favorite psychologist, Dr. Abraham Maslow, who outlined the basic needs of human beings with his renowned Hierarchy of Needs diagram. In a TechCrunch article a few months ago, I introduced the Hierarchy of Needs of an IoT ‘thing’, leveraging Maslow’s three key building blocks of self-existence, self-expression and self-actualisation. One of the key takeaways from this article is that security is paramount, even before the thing communicates.  As soon as a thing starts to collect information, even if it does not yet have a voice, it must be trusted to safeguard that information.


In things we trust?

Trust is something we demand in anyone we hire or bring into our homes, so perhaps we should consider bringing a new IoT thing into our lives in the same way we hire an employee. The traits you look for in an employee translate nicely for things: you must be able to trust your thing; it must do the job it’s hired for; your thing must work well alongside others; and it should fit into the overall culture. If potential employees don’t meet these criteria, then we look elsewhere. If we don’t apply these standards to our things, then we run the risk of relegating ourselves to becoming micromanagers of our technology when in reality we would much rather be the CEO of our lives.

In a job interview, it’s also important to know which communication tools a prospective employee is fluent in. When considering things, the current message from the industry is “There’s an App for that”.  What if every employee you wanted to communicate with in your company had their own app – and you had to use their app to communicate with them exclusively? If we already use social media to communicate with humans, why can’t we also use it to communicate with our things? Many paradigms for interactions already exist and we now have an opportunity to leverage these for conversations with our IoT things.

Are you talking to me?

Employees submit their work outputs in the standard corporate ways. Why is the output from our things in a format decided by the thing’s maker? Summaries from your things could be presented in mediums that are friendlier to you, such as images, documents, and other familiar and more human-friendly formats.

The goal of this article is to get us thinking differently about the IoT. Let’s reduce the implicit friction between people and technology and bring technology to the level of the people, rather than force them to fit the technology. If you make things, make sure your things are trustworthy. If you build interactions for things, consider how billions of people around the world already communicate with each other. If you make platforms to tie it all together, make sure you focus on secure, trusted, scalable and extensible design.  If you market IoT to the masses, focus less on technology and more on telling the stories of those things that have their own stories to share.

Jim Hunter is chief scientist and technology evangelist at Greenwave Systems, a leading global IoT software and services provider. Jim is a highly regarded IoT technologist having created, patented, and evangelised multiple technologies for a smart connected future and has founded and sold companies in this space to Motorola and Google.


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