Today, multiple users interact with multiple machines to form complex computational networks. Through simplified physical interfaces, IoT can offer users better understanding and control of data. The foundation piece of digital augmentation is already in the hands of billions of people thanks to their first IoT device: a smartphone.

Multiple users, multiple machines

The era of the single user interacting with a single machine is, for all intents and purposes, over.

Today, our machines are networked with one another and enable us to interact with millions if not billions of people. Digital services today are served through our laptops, smartphones, transport kiosks, banking terminals and countless other forms of physical peripherals and digital interfaces.

We participate in real-time communication and collaboration across great distances constantly. We can view and modify complex online systems by changing our user profiles across platforms, chatting in interwoven communication threads, and make decisions and purchases based on the analysis of huge data sets.

We live in an era of multimodality. Thanks to our pervasive and powerful computing environments, we communicate with each other and with machines across text, sound, image and languages. We are increasingly multi-literate. We know how to shift between these modes naturally and understand the affordances and limitations of each.

Through these interactions, we contribute to the creation of enormous amounts of data.

There is a lot opportunity in the volume, variety and velocity of processing all of this data. When we think about the connected home, we see it as an integral part of these complex computational systems. Our interactions can call upon and contribute to these massive data sets, if we make them in a way that is readable and writable to us—and if we build interfaces to help them augment our lives in meaningful ways.

Simple interfaces to complex systems

When these complex systems are visible and modifiable for everyday users, we learn about about how they work. This visibility can lead us to knowingly change our own behavior to get the outcomes we want. Rather than building vast surveillance machines, let's employ this to build a learning cycle as a tool of user empowerment.

The Toyota Prius' dashboard is a useful example of a simple, actionable display of complex data. It shows how the car uses and stores energy. Most users would be unfamiliar with how electric car engines worked, let alone how their driving behavior affects energy consumption. However, by reading this simplified real-time information, people can observe how their behavior changes the system and adjust their driving accordingly.1

Toyota Prius dashboard

Toyota Prius dashboard. By It's Our City, licensed CC BY 2.0.2

Now looking beyond digital displays, the Internet of Things has the potential to not only offer simple visual interfaces, but to let us move away from screens and into physical interfaces. Connected objects can enable user empowerment and feedback loops.

As we continue to explore this field, we will consider how users might observe complex systems and make modifications. We'll look at the affordances of physical objects, such as touch, sound, movement and light as more natural "human-readable" interactions. And we'll examine how IoT might extend or replace the digital displays we have around us, further augmenting our computational abilities while maintaining the users' understanding and control of the system.

The smartphone is an entry point to augmentation

The foundation of this kind of augmentation is already in the hands of billions of people. We tend to think of it as a communications device3 or portable computer, but it is also most people's entry point to the world of IoT: their smartphone.

Smartphones sense the environment around them: location, acceleration, sound and more. They also connect to the internet, and therefore tap into large, computational networks.

Because of the smartphone's inherent connectivity, its computational power and its pervasiveness, we're increasingly seeing appliances and peripherals that connect to the phone. Think wearables like fitness trackers or more advanced tools like virtual reality equipment or even medical devices like blood pressure monitors. Many of the important players in the connected home field are manufacturers of smartphones and/or provide operating systems for them.

Therefore, as connected homes devices become more prevalent, they are built frequently with the smartphone as primary interface in mind.

The smartphone extends our data selves. We carry it constantly on ourselves. It's the first true, widespread digital augmentation device.

And yet, it's not the most elegant interface going forward: It can feel like a bit of a kludge. IoT has the potential to move us beyond this black mirror and enable the next level of augmentation.

1. Thanks to Ame Elliot for the example of the Toyota Prius teaching users about energy consumption and how that changed their driving behavior:
2. Toyota Prius dashboard. By It's Our City:, licensed CC BY 2.0:
3. Depending on how you slice and dice the data, current estimates of global smartphone usage range somewhere between 2bn estimated by statista ( and 2.4bn by GSMA ( smart phone users globally, with projections of around 6bn by 2020 from Ericsson (

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