The datafication of everything--even toilets


By now you've likely heard about the Internet of Things, which basically means that all machines will eventually be connected to the Internet. Such is not limited to the digital thingamabobs specifically designed to communicate or stream content such as smartphones, DVRs, tablets, Google Glass and cars. No, the Internet of Things goes way beyond these to eventually include every machine and sensor from airplanes, MRIs, pacemakers, and ear tags on livestock, to home TVs and appliances, and yes, even toilets.

Yes, you read that correctly: toilets. The Intelligence Toilet was created in Japan a few years ago. At the time it stored data on up to five users; it's possible it can handle more data now. What data does this toilet collect, you might wonder? At its unveiling, it analyzed urine and measured body temperature, blood pressure and weight of the user every time the toilet is used. It's not a huge leap to expect smart toilets of the future to detect pregnancy and to analyze feces to monitor diet and to scan for colon and rectal cancer indicators. In all likelihood, such toilets will report both to the user and to healthcare providers via the Internet.

It's likely to be sold to the masses as a quantified self or lifelogger device, just as GPS in vehicles is sold as a user aide and not as a repossession tool for banks and a use tracker for auto insurance companies.

But you can relax; smart toilets are not yet ready for primetime. However, that doesn't mean we can't learn lessons from them now.

Remember always that any device connected to the Internet can and usually does report to more entities than just the user and that all such devices can be hacked.

Toilets are not the only household item to be a part of the Internet of Things. Smart refrigerators will text you with a list of groceries you need, which is handy, but they will also automatically contact repairmen and order replacement parts as needed, as well as collect data on everything from what you eat to when you eat it. Ditto for washers and dryers, home alarm systems, cooking stoves and microwave ovens.  

The same is happening everywhere from hospitals and doctors' offices to workplaces, transportation vehicles and hubs, and entertainment centers. Data from everything, everywhere will be collected and sent somewhere, probably to several somewheres and to several analysts. If you want to learn more about the variety of data collectors in Machine to Machine (M2M) and the Internet of Things, read one or more of the collection of articles on the subject in ZDNet.

The point is that with the Internet of Things comes the Datafication of Everything. Ah, you say, another buzzword. How cute ... and trite.

The term is neither cute nor trite; it is the means in which we can visualize and vocalize how small the big data we have today really is compared to the data tsunami that is to come. "Think of it as Big Data writ large" as Sharon Fisher puts it in her Laserfiche post "Why You Need to Care About This 'Internet of Things' Thing."

The Datafication of Everything poses an extreme challenge to data storage and analysis, as Fisher points out in her post. It also begs the question as to whether many of those challenges are necessary.

Do we really need to record and monitor everything and every moment in order to know some useful things? Or is this merely a wasteful, costly and cumbersome exercise of privacy eradication?

It's time to give some serious thought to what we actually need to learn from data in order to discern what data is just clogging the pipes and therefore should be flushed.

For more information:
- see the InformationWeek article on datafication
- see the Laserfiche post
- see the M2M, Internet of Things articles in ZDNet  

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