I believe that Lloyd only begins to scratch the surface with his analysis. While Lloyd rejects claims of anthropomorphization, I still believe that his overarching lens of ascribing “being-like” qualities to objects is an attempt to frame our relationship to such connected objects in a way that recognizes our lack of familiarity with interacting with non-human objects that appear to respond intelligently to human interaction without meaningfully questioning the role these devices should play in the role of the common man’s life. I will maintain, however, that I would agree with Lloyd’s argument as it related more raw forms of AI (such as Siri, Alexa, etc). While I believe Lloyd’s assertion that we reframe smart devices in terms outside of the utilitarian to be on the money, I again believe Lloyd fails to go far enough in reframing our relationship by avoiding the quintessential function that our now “smart” objects were meant to preform to begin with; they are, at their most basic, tools we use to improve human productivity and daily life.
However, I wish to immediately refute the surface connotation between “utilitarianism”, and tools. As someone whose views generally align with the principals of American Pragmatism (a school of thought promoted by Thomas Dewey), I believe that each new tool is added to a larger arsenal of tools we use to solve life’s problems and to increase human welfare. Therefore, while I agree that smart plugs for the masses are, while useful, an example of what would fall into the drably unimaginative category of “utilitarian” laid out by Lloyd.
Instead, consider the smart plug as simply one possible “cog” inside of the broader (and arguably very nebulous) concept of “the internet of things”, a buzzy slogan pushed by Silicon Valley to promote connected gadgets. For example, if I were interested in growing my own organic produce at home but find unfavorable conditions (poor lighting, little free time to tend to plants, messes caused by watering, infrequent and erratic watering, etc), I could choose to exploit the automation afforded to us by the “internet of things” by looking at each interconnected device as simply one cog within my broader scheme of automating my home food production. In more real terms, I’m a 20 year old student. I love plants and they’ve always fascinated me, but frankly, I find my mid-terms to be more pressing than watering my homegrown organic tuscan kale. Instead of engaging in a constant battle for my attention, I could choose to permanently stave off the negative effects of neglect by constructing an automated drip irrigation system to water my indoor garden, thus solving the problem of regular maintenance. Moreover, by automating the task, the plants will get a stable stream of water which will improve quality while increasing the gardens overall productivity. The end product is a minimally labor intensive agricultural solution that meaningfully and tangibly improves people’s lives by providing them with a fresh and highly affordable access to produce, while also actively fighting back against the industrialization and commercialization of food and increasing disparities between income and access to quality and healthy foods. Moreover, by reducing demand at the super market, you’re taking cars off the road and reducing emissions by reducing the number of miles (to ZERO!!) that the food needs to travel before reaching one’s table. One could enhance this method by adding in a Raspberry Pi or Arduino to measure soil humidity and temperature to perfectly calibrate the drip system, which would maximize the water savings of drip irrigation with the efficient precision offered by “the internet of things”.
Again, going further, someone could apply a similar tactic to alternative agricultural methods such as hydroponics and aquaponics. Hydroponics, on one hand, can be a labor intensive process which requires constant monitoring, measuring, balancing, and cleaning. In exchange, however, harvest times are nearly halved while yields are doubled. Additionally, hydroponics is a process which is more or less infinitely scalable. In theory, the process could be shrunken down and automated. Such a device could use smart metrics to measure the reservoir’s chemical balance and balance the solution as needed (hydroponic solution is usually a blend of 3 other solutions and contains a PH buffer to stabilize the reservoir’s PH at an initial setting of 5.5) while relaying the information in real time to the user though a web interface or an app. In exchange, the end user has a completely self managed growing environment where they only need to plant the food they want to eat. If an additional user intervention could be needed, the user could be notified via a push notification on their phones, a key action (and distinction) enabled by the internet of things. If the designer so desired, one could likely build in HomeKit compatibility allowing the system to be managed via voice command.
In sum, we should view the internet of things as the effective beginnings of the “democratization” of the automation revolution that is currently pushing society to the brink. Thanks to automation facilitated by the internet of things, we can scale down various activities and bring them back “in-house” as part of a broader localization revolution that could be facilitated by our new level of hyper connectivity.