That day when your car talks to your fridge and takes you to the store for just the right groceries

Dawn or Doom logo in front of a floating island, on top the dawn side of technology and on the bottom the doom side.

Smart cars, smart streets and smart homes, could make life that much easier – easing traffic, reducing car accidents to almost nothing, even allowing time spent driving – or rather, being driven by an autonomous vehicle – to be used productively. 

The tradeoff for such convenience? One possibility is that your autonomous car takes you only to the highest bidder’s restaurant to eat when you tell it to stop because you’re hungry. You could override the car’s advertising system, but it might cost you.

As the Internet of Things (IoT) grows, it may follow the rules of the internet now: If something is free, it’s often because the consumer and their data becomes the product. As you’re browsing Google to find an answer to a question or to find a particular item, you’re also presented with targeted advertising.

Mohammad Rahman, a Purdue University associate professor of management, says the quandary surrounding data and its ownership is important to some people. But for the most part, consumers have indicated that they prefer convenience over privacy, he says.

Will that continue to be the case as ubiquitous technology connects us pretty much anytime, anywhere and with almost anything?

Rahman and Tom Bradicich, vice president and general manager for Hewlett Packard Enterprise, will discuss some ways they think the Internet of Things will evolve during Dawn or Doom ’17, a conference on the risks and rewards of emerging technologies at Purdue. Dawn or Doom will be held Tuesday and Wednesday, Sept. 26 and 27, on Purdue’s West Lafayette campus and is free and open to the public.

Dawn or Doom, which features tracks Designing Cities and Designing the Workforce, also will include a talk by Purdue political science Professor Laurel Weldon about how technology relates to women’s access to the markets.

“There is a gap in access to technology between the sexes,” Weldon says. “Modernization is supposed to break down barriers, but in this case, it’s creating barriers for women.”

Other tracks at the conference include Designing Humans, Designing Food and Designing Information. Visit www.purdue.edu/dawnordoom for more information.

It may indeed be convenient to have your car take you to the grocery store after having communicated with your refrigerator about what food items you’ve run out of. But just how much your car, your fridge and other devices know about you also could be disconcerting.

“[The smart car] is going to become a platform for commerce,” Rahman says. “With such a rich dataset of origins, destinations, even recognizing emotions, the car can tell retailers about you and vice versa.”

Companies, however, may be less comfortable with having their data publicized on the IoT. Rahman and his colleagues in computer science and engineering are creating algorithms that utilize cryptography and the cloud to hide data such as price points.

“If we want to figure out which store gives me the cheapest total price for a basket of items, one way would be to collect the prices of each item from each store and calculate,” Rahman says. “But the stores may want to dynamically change the price of the product based on supply and demand, so instead our algorithm will take the prices and spit out a ‘winner’ without ever revealing the actual prices.”

Bradicich says the IoT will have effects on, and raises questions, ethical and legal as well as technical, for businesses and society at large.

“It sounds trivial, but when my dishwasher is connected to the internet, who owns the data? Is it the dishwasher company? The internet service provider? The user?” Bradicich asked.

Answering such questions, he says, plays an important role in how we balance the dawn and doom sides of the equation.

“Partnerships between companies like Hewlett Packard Enterprise and academic organizations like Purdue are part of the solution to help solve these problems and address these grand challenges,” he says.

Writer: Kirsten Gibson, technology writer, Information Technology at Purdue (ITaP), 765-494-8190, gibson33@purdue.edu 

Last updated: September 19, 2017

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