Alba: Improving or Controlling your Life?
During TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco the start-up Stack Lighting announced a new way to light your house: Alba. Alba is described as the world’s first responsive LED lightbulb, that is equipped with sensors that will know when you are home (and thus know when to switch on the light). Although other smart lights have already been introduced to the market, such as Philips Hue and LIFX, there are some major differences comparing these systems with Alba.
First of all, Alba is built in a way that it will recognize which time of day it is, and which lighting is appropriate for that time. For example, as Gizmodo puts it: “It’s cooler in the morning when you’re waking up, and warms up into the evenings to help improve your sleeping pattern”. Secondly, the user doesn’t have to use an app to switch the lights on and off, or to change the settings. The lights are able to learn from your behavior and will adjust the light accordingly. According to Stack, Alba will improve sleep patterns, will save a lot of energy costs, and because it is connected to different APIs, it will be useful to monitor behavior.
The Internet of Things
Alba is just one other device with sensors connected to the internet to make your life better. Lots of devices are now added to the ‘smart home‘, and we can describe this phenomenon as ‘The Internet of Things‘, which means that more and more products in your day to day life, such as light bulbs, will be connected with sensors to a network in order to monitor behavior and change accordingly. Also, the sensors will be able to communicate with each other, and can adjust their behavior as a result of this communication. As Ben Hammerley writes in Wired, at the moment that these devices are connected, there are lots of possibilities, for example “a thermostat that asks your phone where you are, could turn itself up as you get closer to home”. The idea about this is making life easier, because you don’t need to think about switching on the light, or changing the temperature of your thermostat – the devices will do that for you.
For Stack the light bulbs are just the beginning of connected devices in the home and workplace. As the CEO Neil Joseph states during TechCrunch Disrupt:
Generally lights are the most common electronic devices in a building, we view it as we become the backbone of a responsive sensor network throughout the house. With HomeKit and Works With Nest, with those APIs and some APIs of our own, we’re going to be able to help tie together all of those other products.
The eventual goal of the Alba is thus not only to control the lighting in your house, save you some high energy bills and help you sleep – it will be the backbone for other devices in the house, all collecting data to improve your life. But what happens to the data that is collected? What kind of data will be revealed? And who will be able to use this data? For instance, the data could be very interesting for other companies to target a particular audience. This raises questions about privacy and ownership. Who owns the data – the user or a company? What happens if someone can easily figure out when you are on your holidays, or at what time you are home every night?
With the advancement of the Internet of Things, are we moving more and more towards the Societies of Control as described by Deleuze? Are users becoming dividuals, pieces of code brought together, creating an online individual that can be used for marketing strategies, and even to control users? And beyond that, as Alba can learn from your behavior, is this technology becoming an active agent instead of just a device to help you? Are these technologies in a way telling you how you should live your life? A light bulb that decides when it will light up is one thing, but what happens if all the products in your house will start acting for you?