June 2019

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Rob van Kranenburg, Internet of Things

originally published HQSoftware

(edited version: AutomatedBuildings)

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He Is Building The New Connected Future - Meet Rob van Kranenburg
Created: 30 Apr 2019
Category: Internet of Things

Interview Rob van Kranenburg

Rob van Kranenburg is the founder of the Internet of Things Council, which is now his key focus. His experience gives him an especially insightful perspective on our “connected future” — a future he is already playing a part in creating.

Hi, Rob! Tell a little about your work and life.
When I was younger I was reading a lot. Basically, I was interested in literature and poetry and that is what I studied in the Netherlands.

In the ’80s we got the first access to computers. These were huge machines, where you could basically look up a library around the world, and it was all very exciting. This was around the time of hypertext. As I was investigating the French deconstructivists, I realized people could actually “click” ourselves away from dependence on text. And for people it was a massive liberation.

In the ’90s I was making websites and really enjoying all this type of liberation from plain text and the freedom that we had to investigate and find new data. Around that time the commercial players were coming on the scene. This was the time of the browser wars and also the time of cheap sensors becoming available to web designers. By the end of the ’90s, I noticed at all the interaction design festivals that people were doing a lot with sensors.

Around 2000 I noticed that the sensors were not just appearing at the back-end of the factories; they were actually entering everyday life. I went to a conference in 2000 and what I learned scared me and put me on the track of what I’m doing now with the Internet of Things.

I saw that if we were to continue like this, the world would become a place where every object would be uniquely addressable and identifiable. At the same time, it was possible to give many objects a little bit of processing power, which was rapidly going down in cost. The hardware and connectivity itself were becoming a commodity costing nothing, or very little. This was a very scary world, so I wanted to stay on top of that. On the other hand, the transparency that was in these systems, taking everything to a level of objective decision-making, was very necessary and very good. So it was a dual feeling that I had.

How do you see this unfolding right now?
The first iterations we see now of this potential freedom of people to share information and collaborate is now in the hands of American surveillance capitalists, the over-the-top players,—or national states. I am trying to make sense of it and set up a network of experts, which is called the Council. I set up the #IoTDay for people to discuss this and raise awareness about it, because I think potentially this is tremendously good for ordinary people. And they need to be really aware of what is actually happening.

So this is basically the story. You need to sit together with engineers, psychologists, with people who are in power. These people in power have to understand that they need to look differently at people who are not in power or who are against them: the activists, hackers, progressive people; these people are now your allies. They are objective friends.

Most anarchists, anarcho-communists, hackers or coders, progressive people, want a good society. They are not in favor of big companies and they want good public infrastructure. When I talk to people in the police in Holland and intelligence services they want the same thing. We want good public infrastructure. People who were maybe against each other in earlier iterations should now find each other, to build good public systems.

The most important thing at this moment is for people to see that we need new teams to build these new public infrastructures. You need coders for that, you need engineers. And you need also to build a better balance between centralization and decentralization. Centralization is very necessary for the infrastructure, and decentralization is necessary for the services — we need to find the balance

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