President's Commentary: Delving Into the Implications of Internet of Behaviors

May 1, 2022
By Lt. Gen. Susan S. Lawrence, USA (Ret.)

An evolving trend, the Internet of Behaviors, requires our attention. This growing field in the digital realm stems from the Internet of Things, the earlier wave of connected devices to the Internet and people, which also came with certain vulnerabilities. Not much has been published yet about Internet of Behaviors to help further guide our policies and actions. And with Internet of Behaviors presenting both positive and negative potential impacts, I would like to start a greater dialogue about it.

We all have had the experience of searching for something in Google, and then the next thing you know, you see ads for whatever you Googled. The data being used in the search engine are shaping how retail marketing is examining our behaviors, how we operate and how we shop. The digital platforms recognize our activities based on gender, age and occupation.

Way beyond just tracking our digital online activity is the added use of facial recognition, advanced sensors, other biometric indicators, location tracking, computer vision and other devices, which, when combined with insights into human psychology and data, can influence or prompt our behavior. This emerging—and perhaps powerful—capability is known as Internet of Behaviors. The research company Gartner has identified Internet of Behaviors as one of its top 10 strategic technology trends. They believe that over the long term, almost everyone living in a modern society will likely be exposed to Internet of Behaviors in some form.

In the United States, the commercial sector is already applying Internet of Behaviors tools to leverage our buying power as consumers. Reportedly, a coffee company is using facial recognition to determine a customer’s gender and age, as well as registering their mood. The company then suggests purchasing a specific beverage geared toward those conditions. Internet of Behaviors could be quite an effective method of tapping into the predictability of our purchases and the predictability of our moods.

One potential vulnerability with Internet of Behaviors could involve the workforce. After two years of surviving the global pandemic, we are in an “age of resignation.” People have found working from home beneficial to them personally. Employers, however, are trying to imagine what the future workforce may look like and how they could better respond to workers. The U.S. government, including the Defense Department, is considering what this era may mean for how it operates, not only for the military force but for the civilian workforce as well.

Given the national defense work that we do, the concerns about behavior stem from the need to ensure security amidst effective information sharing. Even Controlled Unclassified Information, or CUI, needs to be protected from adversaries who want to gather information on us when we have a government workforce that is at least partially at home.

In addition, while we are already looking into the ethical practices of artificial intelligence, we will have to uphold the ethical use of Internet of Behaviors. Similar protections are called for here, including privacy, transparency, bias and security. In contrast, the People’s Republic of China is reportedly planning to deploy Internet of Behaviors applications on a grand scale to control and induce specific behaviors of its citizens.

With appropriate ethical protections, Internet of Behaviors in the United States could present positive uses. One possible application that comes to my mind for our military community is using it for recruitment—to help find groups of individuals that may have a greater propensity to join the service.  

The discussion is just beginning, however, and I am looking to the AFCEA community and your industry, governmental and academic expertise to help delve into the considerations of Internet of Behaviors. My concern is whether our behavior is becoming so predictable that it is an advantage to an adversary. We are, after all, human, but this application may require additional defenses.

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