Podcast transcript: Topic 5: The Internet of Things ( 2020/21 Semester 2)

This podcast is part of the UCIL Digital Society course from the University of Manchester running in 2020/21 Semester 2. The story it relates to is hosted on Medium and can be found here.

In this podcast, Isabelle and Simone from the Library Student Team review the topic, The internet of Things, discussing some of the themes you have raised so far.


Simone: Hello, I am Simone from the Library Student Team. With me today is Isabella, also a member of the Library Student Team. We will be talking about your responses to the questions we asked on ‘The Internet of Things’, which was the topic of discussion this week. Thank you for engaging actively with the course and for providing very eye-opening comments on the topic. We found your responses very enjoyable to read.

Isabella: Our world is by all means more technologically-connected than it was a few years ago. We asked you to think about the present day and tell us whether you are positive about the development of technology in your life, or not. The majority of you (80%) said yes. Indeed, technology has improved our efficiency in several ways, and has made possible what would otherwise be impossible. For example, most of us have had to study and work from home for the last 12 months, or thereabout, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Without computers, video conferencing tools and of course reliable internet connectivity, we wouldn’t have been able to do anything while away from the University. Students in some parts of the world have not had access to these tools and have therefore not engaged with their studies at all throughout lockdown. This only emphasises the importance of technology in our everyday lives.

Simone: Next, we explained what ‘the internet of things’ is and placed it within its historical context. In this respect, we introduced you to the ‘Memex’. We then asked what your thoughts on the Memex are, and which pieces of 2020 technology you think it’s closest to, with reasons why.

The vast majority of you likened it to the memory/storage systems we have on our phones, tablets and computers, especially cloud-based storage devices such as OneDrive. Many of you also shared how incredible it is that the invention of Memex was so ahead of its time, and it is easy to see this concept in much of the technology we use today. Indeed, it is interesting to think about what impact Memex would have had if it was actually built!

Isabella: Following on from this, we told you about ARPNET, the network on which the very first internet message was sent from in 1969. It took less than a month from the very first message to the finalisation of the first stable ARPNET system. However, the initial development was not with the intention of creating the multi-faceted version of the internet we see today, it was intended for military purposes. It is definitely worth having a think about the Internet’s origins in the military, a fact that many aren’t aware of.

Simone: History is always an interesting and important thing to look at, but from the industrial revolution (Industry 1.0), to the current Internet Revolution (Industry 3.0), humans are on a constant and fast-paced journey of discovery. So what’s next, what is going to be Industry 4.0? Some people argue that this will involve the Internet of Things and a collision of three variables: people, data, and machines. We introduced a combination of these variables to you and asked for your thoughts.

Isabella: We asked for you to give us examples of an Internet-connected device or sensor, along with a brief explanation about it, and what questions it might raise about the collection and use of data. The majority of your responses revolved around the concept of a smart home, from assistants such as Google Home or Alexa, to smart fridges and microwaves. One of you specifically noted that “…Google Home’ and ‘Alexa’ have functions to make life easier for its user. For example by just speaking out loud it is possible to turn lights on and off.” Whilst each of these pieces of technology have advantages such as convenience or an improved diet and decrease in food waste, there were concerns about exactly how much data these companies have access too, and what is stored. You questioned whether companies need to take and store information on what is stocked in your fridge and what music you listen to for targeted advertising, or even if they are breaching boundaries by listening in and getting more sensitive information without consent.

Simone: Home security systems such as the Ring doorbell were also mentioned, whilst this can have benefits in making the consumer feel safe, you asked how safe this data really is, and if it could easily be hacked into for potential robbers to learn your daily routine and target you. There was also the question of whether any couriers/postmen/delivery drivers would consent to having their voice and image recorded whilst going about their work. These concerns make it difficult for all new technological developments to be universally embraced.

Isabella: We then went through some examples to demonstrate the reduction in cost and the miniaturisation of technology. ASCI Red was a $55 million supercomputer built by the US government in 1996, and 17 years later the $399 PlayStation 4 could be found in homes around the world. Both of these break the teraflop speed barrier, but one is considerably smaller, cheaper and faster! The LIDAR system used in autonomous car design saw its price change from $35 million to $150 in 17 years. These are only two examples of technology becoming smaller, cheaper, and more widespread in our daily lives.

Simone: We explained that machines use sensors to communicate with each other as well as us. These have endless possibilities that can be incredibly beneficial to us all, but can also prove to be problematic. You were then introduced to the technology roadmap and asked to contribute how you think the potential applications of the Internet of Things could affect your future employment.

Isabella: Citing the “the increasing capabilities of machines,” one of you said that “humans will need to prove the value that they offer in a job”. Though so, another student doubted that “humans will give up on working and let themselves be taken over by robotics completely.” Nonetheless, a number of you believe that the automation of processes in particular will have an impact on employment, but these may require supervision and it may even create jobs in another industry. It was also said that some jobs cannot be substituted for by a robot, and it might even see a boost for the creative industry and encourage innovation. This could result in inequality, however, as many low-skilled jobs may be automated and so would potentially alienate a significant portion of the population. A positive thing that might come from this could be that people might start to rethink their priorities and how many hours they should be expected to work.

Simone: Thereafter, we asked whether you agree with the statement that the Internet of Things will either be a force for good or bad, depending on how and why it is used. Most of you (81%) agreed. This may be because the statement reflects the reality that anything can be good or bad, irrespective of its purpose. In effect, the statement validates the divergent views we hold on the impact of IoT on future employment.

Isabella: This was followed by a critical activity. Hereunder, we asked you to write a response containing your critical argument about how you feel about the IoT being a force for good or bad. You had to back up your arguments using appropriate evidence, to provide counter-arguments to at least two examples that disagree with your argument, and to respond to a comment on your response. Following this critical activity, asked whether your opinion on whether the IoT is a force for good or bad had changed. You were a lot more divided on this question than any other. 35% of you said your opinion had changed after the activity, while another 35% said it was unchanged. 29% of you were unsure, which was an increase from 13% in the initial poll. Irrespective of your view, your responses demonstrate that sharing our views with other people or listening to other people’s opinions can make us rethink our own view on things. The most important thing, nevertheless, is to always respect other people’s opinions even if we do not agree with them.

Simone: This brings us to the end of this week’s discussion. Once again, thank you for sharing your thoughts with us. We learned a lot from them. The topic is of course still open for discussion, so if you think of anything else, please feel free to add your comments to the Medium post.

Isabella: All the best with the rest of the course.



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