Roughly four years ago, I sat down to consider what Donald Trump’s presidency would mean for the internet of things. Broadly speaking, I did well with my predictions, although I was disappointed the plan to invest in American infrastructure didn’t pan out, much less lead to business opportunities for smart cities or sensors. Nor did I foresee his administration’s now-defunct attempt to create a nationalized 5G network. And I was sure it would do something about climate change, in turn prompting investment in sensor technology for environmental monitoring.
Despite how contentious and surprising it has been, his administration has had a big impact on the world I cover. Impacts include higher prices for companies making physical devices thanks to Trump’s trade tariffs, the refusal of some U.S. companies to consider China’s Tuya as an IoT platform, and the beginning of a real conversation around electronic surveillance that uses technologies such as facial recognition which was prompted, at least in part, by the behavior of police during Black Lives Matter protests.
So I figured I’d try again to think about what we could or even should see from the next president of the U.S. when it comes to sensors, computing, AI, and wireless connectivity. With the pandemic, some policy goals are clear, but there are plenty of areas where I’d like to see investment yet don’t know if we will.
Starting with COVID, it’s clear Biden is laying the groundwork for a federal effort that is expected to encourage unified policies along with strategies for both testing and the distribution of a vaccine. What isn’t mentioned in his current plan is anything about contract tracing apps or wearables that might help with contact tracing. That’s a blow to the IoT, I’m hoping it also means that Biden and his administration might be ready to tackle privacy and data-sharing regulations.
Sharing data, and the amount of information the IoT can make visible about individuals, were both first discussed in the Obama administration when the Federal Trade Commission issued a report calling for related legislation, back in 2015. Since then, the FTC has continued to go after companies for privacy violations and data breaches. Experts expect the Biden administration to continue an aggressive stance here, and perhaps look at less tangible harms related to data breaches.
Given the pandemic and the sorry state of health care reform in the U.S., I imagine we’ll see the Biden administration maintain that focus, and perhaps even expand access to health care by way of telemedicine. During the pandemic, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security legislation changed reimbursements for providers meeting patients using telemedicine; perhaps Biden will ensure these reimbursements become permanent, and allocate money for studying the efficacy of various interventions using telemedicine. That could be a boon for companies selling medical-grade devices aimed at the consumer market for monitoring temperature, blood pressure, heart health, and more.
On the industrial front, the Trump administration did continue investing in 5G, AI, and quantum computing through grants and the creation of research partnerships with existing universities. Biden’s administration will likely do the same, especially when it relates to some kind of plan to address climate change. Biden’s transition plan includes funding an electric vehicle charging network (which is going to have to be smart in order to help manage demand), the building of 1.5 million new sustainable homes, and efforts to electrify our power grid and homes.
Sensors and two-way communications will undoubtedly need to play a big role in any effort proposed to use resources more effectively as well as in efforts to optimize how we deliver everything from physical goods to electricity. Government research, direct funding, and public-private partnerships are all areas where the IoT will thrive. The government has been funding many of these initiatives, so what will likely change are the dollar amounts and also the narrative surrounding these programs.
We’ll see a greater emphasis placed on justice, sustainability, and ensuring people have “good jobs,” for which the IoT actually has a credible role to play, although the intersection between AI and robots and the workforce is something I’ll be watching. One of Biden’s proposals appears to be some form of right-to-organize legislation, which could be vitally important as big companies use IoT data to push their employees to be as efficient as possible.
And yes, we’re still going to hear a lot of talk about 5G.