IoT devices are no longer just smart and connected, they can become our intelligent companions.
“Do you think I should wear these shoes? Oh no, answered my closet, they just don’t work with this coat. And by the way, friend, these jeans have to go.” Solid advice from my closet; who could argue with that?
Technology is the fastest moving thing we know.
Faster than a speeding bullet or a sonic plane. Yesterday’s hottest technology already sounds stale today. Us and Tech is a short-term relationship. We fall in love with one Tech and believe we can leap from the high expectations of one technology to transform the world to the next with ease.
We love to hear about blockchain and its promise, only criticize it later as an over-rated hype. So we move to the “Metaverse” and its promises, which will fail our short-tech-patience to no one’s surprise.
Take IoT, for example. At this horse race, “IoT” sounds like a letter from the Egyptian Hieroglyphs. Many (myself included) are quick to criticize this technology as underdelivering. Where are the “smart homes” we were promised? Why is Industry not yet 4.0? And it depends on where you live, but around my city, nothing feels all that smart.
But all of this criticism may go away with a bit of time and perspective. Technologies take time to mature. We realize the potential use cases for technologies long before we develop the technology to deliver these use-cases. And in this gap come disbelief and frustration, so we jump on the next tech bandwagon. Surely, it can deliver the goods.
So what’s up with IoT? Is it still around, and will things ever become smart?
IoT went through an exciting journey over the last 40 years. From simple devices that could capture data to devices that could capture and send data. Next, a complete loop became possible; not just receive data but also send data to devices and control them remotely.
Names have changed as the capabilities improved. From “telemetry” to “telematics” and from “Machine to Machine” to “IoT.” And this is where we are today. Small, connected, data capturing and, here is the latest improvement, data analyzing devices.
IoT needs to be like electricity: transparent, available, reliable.
It was my perception of IoT that it would become mainstream when it became transparent. Imagine IoT behaving like electricity. You walk into a room, and you don’t think if there will be electricity there or not. We’ve come to accept it as the fact that we can turn the lights on in a dark room, watch TV and charge our laptops. Electricity is there, it’s reliable, and it works with any device (well, almost, there still is that 220 vs. 110 hurdles for travelers, but still…)
If IoT could get to be this streamlined and reliable, I believed it would hit the mainstream. Doors will unlock automatically, lights will recognize my mood and adjust accordingly. My fridge will fill itself to match my taste and dietary needs. In theory, all of these beautiful things could be done; but there are still hurdles in practice.
But wait, there’s more. Intelligence.
Before we dive into the weeds and make the above work, let’s pause for a second. It now seems that a new branch is growing out of the thick stem of the IoT tree. As we’ve seen, IoT devices have become more sophisticated over time. Cloud and edge analytics continuously improve, and IoT has developed a new muscle: “intelligence.”
Intelligence is an overused and overhyped word in its own right. Today, most of what we call “Intelligent” is nothing more than looking at data and identifying patterns or anomalies. But let’s imagine for a second (it’s great to dream!) that IoT devices do become intelligent; where does it take us?
Dogs, birds, and angry drivers.
Probably one of the most unmistakable signs of intelligence is the ability to communicate. You react in a certain way, and the opposing party replies. That reply may be as simple as a bird flying away from you, a dog reaching closer to sniff your hand, or an angry driver yelling back at you. There is some form of communication. We interpret the opposing party as having some sense, instinct, ability to understand and feel. In short – it is intelligent (maybe not the driver who yelled back at me, but the dog and the bird are.)
When IoT, AI, and ML met, we started on the path of making everyday objects “intelligent.” Yes, there will still be devices that fill their purpose in life by capturing data, making sense of it, and sending out insights. But there will be other devices where having a conversation with the device and communicating in the same way we communicate with other “intelligent beings” is what we need.
Let’s talk about it.
When devices become intelligent and gain the ability to communicate, they may also have an “opinion.” We already see the first products in the market that exhibit these abilities. As the marriage strengthens between devices that capture data descriptive of the natural world and analytics that can make sense of this data, we shift human responsibilities to machines. Waze decides the best route for me. Autonomous vehicles choose when and how to join traffic. Gmail completes sentences, as Grammarly suggests how to rephrase a paragraph. These are not simple “if this then that” type of decisions. Ethics, culture, politics, gender, and opinion on such matters are critical, so users trust these services.
We are a step away from having an intelligent conversation with devices on what needs to be done and how it should be done. And here, an exciting line in the sand appears.
On what topics should machines converse?
Once a device is intelligent and able to carry a conversation, nothing restricts it from discussing topics limited to its functionality. For that matter, your car could have political opinions. Your garbage bin can acquire a level of ethics that will refuse to accept none-recycle plastics. Your laptop could comment on your work-life balance and suggest to re-arrange tomorrow’s schedule; maybe it’s time you take your partner to lunch and read a bedtime story to your kids.
We are inching our way closer to devices evolving from connected extensions of our physical limitations to companions. Companions have an opinion and understand what we are trying to achieve. If they are good friends, they can also help us achieve these objectives.
A new IoT trajectory.
The help may come from discussing opportunities, taking on some tasks, or figuring out a solution to a problem. Intelligent devices from a wearable to a car or a connected environment can join our journey and help us get there in a better way. We are on a new IoT trajectory. First, we grew from devices that just captured data to devices that take on the responsibility of executing tasks in an automated way. We are now getting closer to devices that can have a conversation intelligently.
Conversations with devices may come in the form of a gentle reminder from a companion device in a clinic reminding a doctor that she should consider an alternative treatment to a patient. It could be a set of manufacturing machines joining a conference call with the sales and marketing department and reporting on issues that will slow down production during the upcoming holiday season. It may be an oven warning a kid not to open its door as it is too hot. Or it may just be you and your closet discussing which shoes work best with your ragged coat. Oh, and that pair of jeans has got to go.