Tyranny Of The Beep: Taming The @#$! Sensors - InformationWeek

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IT Leadership // Digital Business
09:06 AM

Tyranny Of The Beep: Taming The @#$! Sensors

The Internet of Things could spark an explosion in senseless computing.

It's 10:00 p.m. Do you know where your phone is?

Let me guess, it's on your nightstand acting as an alarm/sleep-monitor/pager, happily buzzing the night away.

In leadership, we justify our existence by our ability to make hard decisions well. And yet we secretly fear that we are not as good as we used to be.

First, the hard truth: We are not.

Now here's why.

Beyond subject matter expertise and the ability to assimilate new information judiciously, we all know that our environment impacts our decision-making ability... a lot. And our environments have changed radically in the last decade. We went from a relatively quiet work environment to an incredibly noisy one. Thanks to our smartphones, wearables, even smart appliances, we are inundated by a ridiculous number of alerts stemming from senseless sensors, sensors that demand we make sense of them.

[Does your washer really need to talk to your grill? Read Internet Of Household Things: Convince Me.]

Today, we live under the tyranny of the beep. And it is high time we make the problem explicit rather than felt. These senseless alerts are directly impairing our ability to think strategically, because they are insidiously fueling a well studied phenomenon known as "decision fatigue."

Decision fatigue is real and pervasive. The nutshell version is that cognition is like a muscle. Certain repetitive exercises, such as making choices, are costly and directly hurt our ability to make thoughtful, clear-headed decisions.

Yes, this is obvious. What is not obvious is that each beep represents a choice. Should I pay attention or not? And choice, particularly effortful choice (should I stop what I am doing and attend to this right now?) is costly. A significant amount of scholarly research has reached the same conclusion: Self-regulation, our ability to stay on task and perform well, is directly harmed by too much choice.

Now here's the really bad news: It's going to get worse before it gets better. With the convergence of wearables, connected cars, and other manifestations of the Internet of Things (IoT), we stand on the verge of an explosion in senseless computing.

To make sense of these all these stupid sensors, we need a new paradigm in computing. We need to transcend today's state of indiscriminate senselessness and reach a state of hypersense -- the ability to intuit patterns and meaning from interconnected, dynamic sensors, and use that meaning to optimize individual productivity.

To get there, our future software will need to take implicit and passive cues from our activities and adjust what it asks us accordingly. Imagine, for example, your wearable picks up that you are running a high fever during the night and reschedules all your day's meetings before you wake up. The result will be like a magic mind-reading system that is always several steps ahead of us -- gently nudging us toward better decisions. The shift moves us from explicit, rules-based programming to implicit, intuitive, adaptive learning systems.

Yes, I want a system that can read my mind and know how to protect my productive time, and I want it now. Sadly, this ideal surpasses our current state of the art even in the emergent discipline of anticipatory computing. (To get a sense of what is happening now in this area, it's worth checking out Expect Labs' MindMeld application or GoogleNow.)

To cross the divide separating creepy from genuinely helpful, anticipatory computing has to address privacy in entirely new ways. Ultimately, we will need to trust these apps more than we trust ourselves. And therein lies the adoption drag factor.

For now, we are left to hack together our best options -- a combination of task-oriented apps, scheduling rules, and personal health priorities (eat well, get enough sleep). In short, it's all up to us, and we better get ready for it to get worse. Now, where are those donuts?

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User Rank: Ninja
8/5/2014 | 5:01:47 PM
Re: Lack of Trust is a Drag?
Agreed. Even more to the point, imagine Facebook-type experiments where you are now wholly reliant on your "mind-reading" device that now, unintentionally, makes decisions FOR you. Someone hacks a CEOs device and "reschedules" a meeting that destroys the merger he was working on. Some ad company manipulates sensors so that your driving path to work is re-routed in order to get maximum visibility on a new billboard they posted. The possibilties of "human hacking" are endless. Information and control are both forms of power - turning all that over to devices is a horrible and slippery slide that I pray we never approach.

A common theme to all my posts can be summed as such "Sure, it sounds great, but what are the negative and unintended consquences of this technology?" aka "Just because you CAN do something doesn't mean you should.

Usually, the cure is worse than the disease.
User Rank: Author
8/4/2014 | 10:17:59 PM
Re: Tyranny of devices
It's a nice goal to stay disciplined in the face of alerts, but how many of us remain disciplined about, say, only checking email at set intervals? Easier said than done to tune out these alerts. 
I give
I give,
User Rank: Moderator
8/4/2014 | 8:20:30 PM
Lack of Trust is a Drag?
"Ultimately, we will need to trust these apps more than we trust ourselves. And therein lies the adoption drag factor."

So are you actually saying we need to have faith in the Cloud?  Sounds like the Call of the Sirens.  It is not just "these apps" we will need to trust, it is the nature of the dependency demanding the trust.  We are vulnerable enough as is since we are driven primarily by our unconscious.  Once "these apps" are trusted more than "ourselves" we will be more likely to be victims of regimentation.  

Sadly, human nature is susceptible to tranny under many guises.  Self interest and trust are the bait used most effectively by others to exploit us.  Laziness and greed are in that mix.  Drag is another way of not getting "ahead of yourself."  I for one don't want to go over a cliff.  This is the equivalent of jumping off a cliff because the app said you could fly.

I recently saw a blog which strongly stated that the so-called Singularity would never happen.  But the blogger was making a case.  He wanted wanted us to accept his case, but used rhetoric, not prescience. We need to trust what someone else tells us, right.  In most cases they believe what they are saying, of course.  But does that mean they are actually correct?  Sorry, but no.  I don't question their veracity or their integrity.  I only question their ability to predict the future accurately.

Be careful what you wish for.  You might just get it.
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
8/4/2014 | 7:56:47 PM
Re: Tyranny of devices
>I will pay attention to a smoke detector but not the washing machine or blender. 

Agreed. Distraction can be solved on the user side of the equation as well as on the device side.
Lorna Garey
Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
8/4/2014 | 4:32:47 PM
Re: Tyranny of devices
I handle this by having set rules for when things get done, mostly based on the OHIO (only handle it once) principle. The idea is to make it so you minimize decisions.
IW Pick
User Rank: Apprentice
8/4/2014 | 3:37:16 PM
Re: Tyranny of devices
What we need is an alert digestor.  Something that comsumes the alerts from IoT and acumulates relative urgency.  Alert From my Frig that the milk is low only acumulates 1 point on the Home scale, That backup I fixed at work last week that beeps every hour 10 points on the work scale, db is down, and noone can log in, 100 points or more.  Like SPAM measuring on emails, when the scale reaches a certain point, then we are notified, or we can look at a heat map of each scale.
User Rank: Apprentice
8/4/2014 | 1:20:44 PM
Tyranny of devices
Your comment "Imagine, for example, your wearable picks up that you are running a high fever during the night and reschedules all your day's meetings before you wake up" assumes you live your workday in meetings, cab drivers, those in the retail business and a host of others do not spend their days in meetings.  Most devices have sound controls and if the user can't ignore the unimportant things in life (even before computers) then there is no hope for them.  I have voice mail and I will not run to a phone to answer an interruption if I am busy.  I will pay attention to a smoke detector but not the washing machine or blender.  I own my devices, they do not own me.
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