Everyone is talking about smart. Everything is – or is becoming – smart. It started with smart phones. Suddenly, a familiar object that everyone used became not only functional, as all technologies in some way are, but smart also. After the smart phones came the smart watches and smart jewelry and even smart clothes. The trend to smart did not stop at apparel and accessories, but appliances such as smart refrigerators, smart cooking stoves, smart vacuum cleaners invaded the home. Indeed, the entire house is becoming smart. And if entire houses can be smart, why not entire cities? Finally, the Internet of Things is ushering in a 4th industrial revolution extending smartness to everything including not only cities, but smart factories, smart logistics, smart energy and so on. It would seem that being smart is becoming an important qualification for being itself. It would seem that existence today, and probably even more so in the future, depends on being smart and what is not smart or cannot become smart will have no place in the world. This trend should cause not only hope for a better future, but also raise some basic questions about what it is that we are calling smart. What does “smart” mean?
The adjective smart is usually applied to people who are considered clever, bright, intelligent, sharp-witted, shrewd, able, etc. It is interesting that we would hardly think of things in this way. This implies that smart technologies are changing the definition of what it means to be smart. If everything around us is becoming smart then these things are smart in a different way than we traditionally ascribe to human beings. My iPhone is not quick-witted, shrewd, or astute, but it does have qualities that demand to be called smart. What makes smart technologies smart?
This is not an idle question because when our homes, our places of work, our communication and transportation networks, and much more are all smart in a certain way, we humans will find that we are not the ones defining what it means to be smart. We will find ourselves in need of adapting to how the world around us is smart in order to become and remain smart ourselves. Floridi (The Fourth Revolution) speaks of a 4th revolution in which humans must learn to share the attribute of intelligence with machines, recognize themselves as “inforgs,” informational beings, and acknowledge that the world has become an “infosphere.” In a smart world humans are no longer the only ones in possession of intelligence and they are not the only ones who can say what intelligence means. Instead, we are part of an all-encompassing “socio-technical ensemble” that as a whole determines what it means to be smart. If we want to find out what smart means, then we have to take a step back from the mirror of Cartesian reflection and look at the whole socio-technical network. As actor-network theory puts it, the network is the actor.