AmI and the IoT and Environmental and Societal Sustainability: Risks, Challenges, and Underpinnings

Materialized as a result of science-based technologies and innovations, visions of a next wave in ICT such as AmI and the IoT are aimed at creating smart environments, such as smart buildings, smart energy, smart transport, smart industries, smart cities, smart healthcare, smart mobility, smart living, and so on. This implies that AmI and the IoT technologies will be able to recognize different contexts (e.g. locations, physical conditions, events, situations, social environments, people’s states, etc.) and to react and pre-act autonomously, adaptively or proactively, without human intervention. This new technological feature is seen to hold great potential to advance environmental sustainability and improve societal sustainability. In other words, given their ubiquity presence, AmI and the IoT are increasingly seen as a promising response sustainable development challenges due to their potential to enable substantial energy savings and GHG emissions reductions in most economic and urban sectors, and to address societal challenges in area of social inclusion, social justice, and healthcare. However, AmI and the IoT have a number of potential risks, uncertainties, and concerns in relation to sustainable development that need to be understood when placing high expectations on and marshalling resources for such technologies by visionaries and research leaders. With the growing concern about their multiple environmental effects and social ramifications, AmI and the IoT visions are worth attention and further research. This chapter aims to investigate the risks that AmI and the IoT as forms of, and advances in, S&T pose to environmental and societal sustainability, and to address the eco-environmental aspects of technology in relation to ecological modernization and transition governance. I argue that there are intricate relationships and tradeoffs among the positive impacts, negative effects, and unintended consequences for both the environment and the society, flowing mostly from the development, use and disposal of AmI and the IoT technologies throughout the information society, and pertaining to the digital divide, technological and socio-demographic gaps, inherent in the design of new technologies, respectively. The intention of this attempt is to offer people of modern, high-tech societies the relevant resources with which to evaluate—analytically, environmentally, and ethically—the gains and the risks, the safeties and the perils, of AmI and the IoT as notable advances of in S&T.

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