Sensors for Everything (Reading 07)

Microsoft puts forth some laudable goals in their story, “In the Cloud We Trust.” I respect that they prioritize maintaining privacy in their systems and complying with government regulations, even as they defend the rights of individual users when governments overstep their bounds in the unmarked territory that software opens up. Still, one proclamation surprised me: “we need to move technology forward, but we need to do so in a way that ensures timeless values will endure.” Timeless values I suppose includes human rights such as privacy, protection from harm and an opportunity to achieve. Whatever they are, the article includes them like an addendum to the most certain principle we have today, “we need to move technology forward.” What exactly does moving technology forward look like? Microsoft is a technology company, so their express purpose and sole way of proceeding is to advance technology in some way. How they are meant to progress is the perennial problem of these technology companies, and many careers are spent just thinking about what the next step in technology should be (R&D). Now that computers have become so versatile and reliable, the next area of development has been to put computers in more and more places, the Internet of Things.

What lead to this idea? I sure never thought I would need computational power to use everyday items, but I can see how it appeals to engineers testing household products in a lab. With all the effort that goes into user testing and validation, it would be great if we had all this data just from the millions of users living with these products. But as Heidegger might say, that doesn’t show us the essence of Internet of Things, eventuated by the essence of modern technology. I was just reading his article, “The Question Concerning Technology,” and one quote seems particularly applicable to this phenomenon of IoT: “physics…will never be able to renounce this one thing: that nature report itself in some way or other that is identifiable through calculation and that it remain orderable as a system of information. This system is then determined by a causality that has changed once again…It seems as though causality is shrinking into a reporting–a reporting challenged forth–of standing-reserves that must be guaranteed either simultaneously or in a sequence”(Basic Writings, 328).¬† He has in mind the Heisenberg principle in this passage, where modern physics has resigned itself to an inscrutability of representation. That resignation, to a kind of science that cannot be visualized or sensibly represented, occurs because technology demands a quantification and holding in reserve of resources, not letting things be as they are. Briefly, Heidegger’s project was to establish a fundamental ontology, an understanding of Being. He approached this lofty goal through a genealogy of being, inspired by Nietzsche’s genealogy of morals. So he shows how our understanding of being has changed historically, and not just remained as the same principle matter. One way being changes, or reveals itself in different ways, is through technology. Technology leads us to take things as things to be harnessed, collect them as something to stand-in-reserve. When he talks about causality, that was once the formal or efficient causes in nature, becoming a kind of reporting, so things present themselves as something to yield information, I couldn’t help but think of our push to put sensors in just about everything we interact with. The way to move technology forward is to gather more information. Then our machines can somehow adapt to our lifestyle and create value. After taking rivers and mountains as sources for energy, something else to be placed in reserve, we are now harnessing information from our everyday life. I’ve heard someone say before that data is the new oil. Now companies don’t just need to sell you the product; they need the information of how you use it. Consumers have now become the resources, so even with the horrifying expos√© about Jeep’s vulnerability to outside hackers, I imagine companies will do anything to make us feel secure before removing those internet systems.