THE BLOG

'Sex Tape' and the Internet of Things

08/04/2014 01:59 pm ET | Updated Oct 03, 2014
  • Jane Sarasohn-Kahn Health Economist, Advisor & Trend Weaver; THINK-Health and Health Populi blog

"Nobody understands the cloud. The cloud is f***ing mysterious." This, exasperates Jay, one of a couple who has taped his wife and himself performing every position illustrated in The Joy of Sex to turbocharge their sex life after marriage and the birth of two kids.

While I'm a fan of the actors Cameron Diaz and Jason Segal, and the screenwriting of Jake Kasdan, I was professionally interested to follow the plotline of this suburban couple whose iPad-recorded liaison gets sucked into "the cloud," synched up on friends' tablets through a super-efficient program called Bride of FrankenSync, and the eventual resolution of whether they can get the sex tape "back." That turns out to be the equivalent of getting the proverbial genie back into the bottle.

"Professionally interested," yes - dear reader, don't smirk -- because I'm increasingly involved in the phenomenon called the Internet of Things (IoT). That is, in a nutshell, how the electronic stuff in our homes is getting connected via Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and other emerging communications standards. If you believe the marketers from the companies promulgating Internet of Things ad campaigns and Consumer Electronics Show press releases, "smart" homes and IoT are the New-New Thing.

The promise of the IoT is magical and especially attractive to those of us who respond to our parents' question of "how are you?" with the out-of-breath response, "too busy." One vision for IoT paints the Jetsons' Rosie the Robot as a helpmate around the house, like a Roomba on steroids. Another vision is one for the green sustainability persona in you: manage your suburban McMansion as if you lived on Green Acres with a touch of your smartphone. A third scenario is a home that bolsters your health, including a refrigerator that calls up healthy foods for your gluten-free lifestyle, a scale hidden in the floor in front of your bathroom sink that reads and records your weight (in a data cloud or data lake), and sensors throughout your home that record your activity and tell you to take a walk or run and get up offa that thing (with apologies to James Brown - next week's movie review-cum-tech commentary will look into the biopic Get On Up).

All of these futures appeal to me on their surface for creature comfort, convenience, and consumer satisfaction. But with sensor-laden life comes data: being collected, recorded, analyzed and fed into algorithms. Google's acquisition of Nest Labs, for example, gives the company access to a developer of smart thermostats and smoke detectors. Or is there more to that $3.2 billion purchase?

You bet your consumer-generated data there is. As Frank Gillet, Forrester analyst, told the Wall Street Journal, "This is about whose service - Google, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, and others - is going to coordinate your smart home for you."

As consumers look to benefits of IoT - and there will be many, customizable to our own desires and demands - people will need to assess the value of connecting devices beyond the obvious Rosie-the-Robot conveniences, like the next generation of a remote control for our electronic devices. Consumers need to understand that connecting devices creates a new stream of consumer-generated data that flows to the Google's, Amazon's, Apple's, and Microsoft's of the world.

"The IoTs will create a massive amount of data and great data stream opportunities for organizations," explained Rod Fontecilla of Unisys's Federal Systems division in a company blog. There is tremendous value in consumers' data. Will consumers get fair value back in the Internet of Things era? I'm working with clients involved in health to get this question incorporated into early-stage design, as we grow connected homes to improve our quality of life.

I agree with Jay, the maker of the home-grown sex tape: nobody - at least those of us living in middle America and over the age of 24 -- understands the cloud, that's for sure. And if consumers aren't engaged in informing and co-designing in this early phase of the Internet of Things, those outside our smart homes will be a lot smarter about us than we are about ourselves.