Droning on: life in the Internet of Things

Tuesday 30 September, 18.30 until 20.00, Foyles, 107 Charing Cross Road, London WC2H 0DT UK Satellite Events 2014

Tickets £7.50 (Purchase) /£5.00 Concessions (Purchase)

NB: We will not send tickets out to people, but names will be on a list at the door. Please bring your payment email as confirmation.

Automation plays an increasingly significant role in our daily lives. Within a few years, the hotly tipped ‘Internet of Things’ promises to integrate even everyday household appliances into autonomous networks, with many hoping it will significantly reduce energy and food wastage among other benefits. Advances in drone technology and ‘smart’ robots, capable of performing highly skilled jobs once regarded as the sole preserve of human workers, has led some to predict that a ‘Second Machine Age’ could be a reality within a generation. Meanwhile, recent hit films from Her to Robot & Frank have started to explore how robotic systems will radically change how humans interact with each other from the perspective of the very near future rather than as highly speculative sci-fi.

For some this represents a possible dystopia, where humanity becomes enslaved by smart systems. As evidenced by the military use of drone technology or the possible ‘hacking’ of AI-enhanced prosthetic limbs, there are endless security and privacy concerns raised by an increasingly connected world. Economists fear that the rise of the robots may have as serious social impacts as the Industrial Revolution had on agricultural workers. Even in the more immediate future, there are fears that our reliance on technology may be undermining more traditional human skills, whether it’s pilots dangerously short on flight training when their systems malfunction, or simply relying on spellcheck rather than your own knowledge.

Yet others see plenty of grounds for optimism in the application of such systems. Outside of the military, drones could be used to deliver medicine (maybe even treatment) to those stranded in remote areas; robotic exoskeletons could soon offer the opportunity for paralysed or infirm patients to enjoy far greater mobility. Home automation is already playing a significant role in elderly care in Japan and Denmark, and medical researchers have been able to harness the leisure time of internet users to assist with research currently beyond even sophisticated supercomputers.

What impact is the connected world having on how we behave? Are machines our liberators, or are our mental faculties, privacy and even our humanity being eroded by automation? Will the Internet of Things mark a radical change in the relationship between humans and technology? Or will the dream – or nightmare – of fully networked living remain as unfulfilled as such past ambitions as the jet pack and living on the Moon?

Willard Foxton
television producer and journalist; author of the dating blog, 28 dates later

Izabella Kaminska
FT Alphaville blogger, Financial Times

Sarah Kember
professor of new technologies of communication, Goldsmiths, University of London

Dr Norman Lewis
director (innovation), PwC; co-author, Big Potatoes: the London manifesto for innovation

Robin McNicholas
co-founder and creative director, Marshmallow Laser Feast; co-creator, Meet Your Creator

Dr Paul Reeves
engineering software designer, SolidWorks R&D (part of Dassault Systèmes); convener, manufacturing work group for Big Potatoes: the London manifesto for innovation

David Bowden
associate fellow, Academy of Ideas; culture writer

Produced by
David Bowden associate fellow, Academy of Ideas; culture writer

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