Cleantech
New Levels of Connectedness:
Applying IoT to Global Sustainability Challenges

The Internet of Things (IoT) is changing the way we connect with each other and the world around us. While creating new opportunities for business engagement and new systems for developing data, complex and challenging questions about privacy and security are deeply intertwined. Gabriel Scheer, Senior Strategist at Frog Design, led an entertaining and engaging breakout session Wednesday morning at SB'16 San Diego that dove into the opportunities that IoT provides for individuals and business in improving efficiencies, creating resilience and tackling global sustainability.

Scheer introduced a diverse range examples where the Internet of Things has facilitated positive social change. Examples included the use of block chain technology to create community-scale solar energy networks in Brooklyn, and the development of novel local and regional food systems allowing marginalised communities access to quality produce.

Conversely, with these opportunities can also come serious questions regarding the management of personal information by private companies and governments, and the real potential cyber-terrorism. Scheer reminded us that “while data about us on an individual level may not be interesting, when this data is aggregated it can become very interesting.” He framed the trade-off between personal privacy and opportunity by asking the room: “how much privacy is worth giving up in exchange for financial savings or comfort? How much control are you willing to give up to optimise efficiencies?”

Scheer gave the example of how General Motors (GM) recently became a significant investor in Lyft. GM had identified the value that the visibility and data that the app-based transport provider could offer. Logistics and transport is one of the biggest employers in the United States, and Scheer urged us to think about the potential consequences of a fully automated distribution network facilitated by the IoT: “would this result in job losses, or could it pave the way for a Universal Living Wage to ensure an income for everyone?”

To galvanise this new way of thinking, Scheer broke the room into small groups and challenged us to play these ideas. With less than 15 minutes to come up with an innovative application of The Internet of Things to present to the room, Gabriel facilitated an ideation process that resulted in the emergence of a range of wired, weird and wonderful wired ideas.

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