As human beings, we act on our environment. However, the evolution of tools and technology has changed tremendously the way we act. For example, we no longer have to spend the majority of our time hunting and gathering food – much of our food preparation has been automated. Tools can also act on our behalf in more advanced ways. With advances in sensors and processors, we are well on our way to having neurally controlled prosthetics and automated cars.

Concomitantly, our relationship with machines and, more importantly, with each other, has changed. As we automate and delegate tasks to machines we become more interdependent and entwined with them. Family structure and community infrastructure also evolve along with this change. The car is an obvious example of something that has changed our city infrastructure as well as our social structure in both good ways and bad.

So how do we use technology to amplify our capabilities while still retaining our humanity?

The term Internet of Things has been used to refer to the convergence of the Internet, smart devices, and ubiquitous sensing. Generally, it refers to the ability to get information about the environment rather than the ability to control the environment. But the Internet of Things has enabled us not only to have connectivity between each other but also remote control over devices. When these devices also have the ability to physically act on the environment, we have an actuated Internet

We see this already in home automation and smart homes. Just as mobile phones changed the way families communicate with each other, networked garage openers or house locks will allow families to act for each other. Could we do this with cars as well? Would it be too much to take over driving from Grandpa, through a network, if he doesn’t feel comfortable driving home from the store? In both cases, technology has not only given carers peace of mind but also the ability to act for one another.

Social networking has changed our interactions with each other in ways we couldn’t imagine, and so will the actuated web. But I believe that it is not the devices themselves or the actions they imply that will shape our future, it is how they change our interactions with each other that is of interest.

Author: Dr Corinna Lathan is Co-Founder and Board Chair of AnthroTronix, Inc; a 2006 Young Global Leader; and a member of the Global Agenda Council on Robotics and Smart Devices

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