What is Smart?

I don’t think of the Internet of Things anymore, in fact, I haven’t seen that term written for quite a while. I”m more inclined to thinks about ‘smart’ devices. But what is it that makes it smart?

To label something (or someone) as ‘smart’ makes me think that the object or person is capable of informed, intelligent, independent thought. In which case, a person can be smart but surely my watch or TV or kettle isn’t?

What makes a device ‘smart’? Well, if it’s the ability to connect to other devices and/or a “combination of services, trust, and ease of use that make a [smart] device a better choice for a consumer than a dumb one” (James Schaefer) then this still isn’t really ‘smart’? That’s just an ability to pack a series of instructions and functions into a small(er) package.

If, as James states, a smart device is ‘trusted’, are we trusting the device itself or the service it connects to, which we may or may not know much about?


  • I had a ‘smart meter’ installed last year to help with energy management and notifying my energy supplier with meter readings. It’s called a ‘smart meter’, but it’s not. It is really useful in showing me my energy usage and whether I’ve been using more today than yesterday, but it is not smart. For it to be smart I would expect it to link to my energy supplier, get details of my account & tariff and actually calculate my energy consumption per hour/day. It does not. The value it displays is based on a generic tariff, not mine. This is not smart.
  • My smart TV is connected to the internet so I can easily connect to streaming services or other media apps and watch/listen to far more than is available through the aerial. Each streaming service uses algorithms to entice me to watch something it thinks I’ll like. The TV itself is not smart (nor some of those algorithms either – More4 thinks that because I watched ‘The Great British Bake Off’ I’d like to watch ‘Married at First Sight, Australia’! Really?).
  • My smart watch is not smart. I have it tethered to my phone so I can get my notifications on it, but mostly it just sits on my wrist and shouts ‘Move!’ a lot. When I’m out it monitors steps and distances and can detect when I’m walking, running (never), or cycling (sometimes), but otherwise is not very smart. What would be smart(er) is if it connected to Maps and could see, for example, when I”m coming up to an incline and gave me a motivational ‘only 1/2 a mile to where you started, come on!’ message (or ‘mind out for the large cliff/drop to your right’). Also linked to my location could be a ‘you did that last mile 23 seconds faster last week’ message. That would be clever, but still not really ‘smart’.
  • I don’t have one, but I often see adverts for ‘smart’ cookers or fridges. Again, these arent’ smart but merely connected. Apparently, you can use them to (re)order yoghurt or milk or other goods you usually buy and are running out of. What would be smart if it wouldn’t let you open the fridge door at 11PM because it knows you’re snacking and are on a diet! Imagine that … It’s 2001 A Space Odessy’s HAL9000 in your kitchen – “I’m sorry, Dave, I can’t let you eat that. You’re on a diet!” Arghhh!

What I think I’m most annoyed at is the mislabeling of smart devices. They’re not really smart. Clever, maybe. Connected, definitely. But smart? Not yet, no.

You could argue these services and devices are making us dumb, so perhaps they are actually smarter than us?

Excuse me while I go and consult my clever phone (which never rings with a phonecall) and check on how many miles I walked last week, using data from my clever watch. I’m the smart one here, I get to choose which device to use. I’m making sure I make smart (intelligent) decisions for who has my data and how they intend to use it.

Photo by Matthew Ansley on Unsplash