Some socio-technical aspects of intelligent buildings and pervasive computing research
You had to live – did live, from habit that became instinct – in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and … every movement scrutinized. (George Orwell, 1984)
Recent reports from the European Parliament Technology Assessment unit and the UK Information Commissioner’s Office have highlighted the need for debate on how society should balance the convenience that new technology affords with the need to preserve privacy. To date, most of the debate has addressed the more visible aspects of technology and privacy such as surveillance cameras, identity/loyalty cards, internet search engines and radio frequency identification (RFID) tags. In this article we seek to use our experience as computer scientists to advance this debate by considering issues arising from our research related to intelligent buildings and environments, such as the deployment of autonomous intelligent agents. Intelligent buildings and environments are based on the use of numerous ‘invisible’, omnipresent, always-on, communicating computers embedded in everyday artefacts and environments. While most current intelligent building technology is based around automated reactive systems, research is under way that uses technology to gather personal information from people and use this information to deliver personalized services to them. While promising great benefits, this technology, by being invisible and autonomous, raises significant new dangers for individuals and society as a whole. Perhaps the most significant issue is privacy – an individual’s right to control the collection and use of personal information. Rather than focusing on the ‘here and now’, this article looks forward to where this research could lead, exploring the issues it might involve. It does this by presenting descriptions of current work, interleaved with a set of short vignettes that are intended to provoke thought so that developers and the population at large might consider the personal and regulatory needs involved. We end this article by offering a conceptual framework for situating multidisciplinary socio-technical research in intelligent buildings.
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