Described as “the next frontier in technology,” the Internet of Things (IoT) is revolutionizing the world in more ways than most people realize.
The term refers to a global network of connected devices capable of communicating with one another. These smart devices are equipped with a myriad of sensors that collects all sorts of data from temperature and humidity to movement, water flow, electricity consumption, heart rate, and many others. When data stream from multiple IoT devices are pooled together in sets so large that it is impossible to deal with them using traditional data processing applications, we talk about Big Data.
To make sense of Big Data, we need smarter data processing methods. So smart, in fact, that they can think and learn on their own. An Artificial Neural Network is “an information-processing paradigm that is inspired by the way biological nervous systems, such as the brain, process information,” describe this new method Christos Stergiou and Dimitrios Siganos from Imperial College London.
Artificial Neural Networks learn by example, and IoT devices supply an endless number of examples. Advancements in Neural Networks and Big Data analysis have propelled forward Machine Learning, the field of computer science that “gives computers the ability to learn without being explicitly programmed,” as famously described in 1959 by Arthur Samuel.
Some of the largest IT companies in the world are already using the combination of IoT devices, Big Data, and Machine Learning to accurately translate foreign languages, find cures for dangerous diseases, practice speed recognition, and power self-driving vehicles.
In fact, it is estimated that there are now over 20 billion connected devices in the world, and this figure is expected to rise to 50 billion by 2020. Increasingly more people interact with IoT devices powered by artificial intelligence on a daily basis. They could be using a smart speaker such as Amazon Echo or Google Home to control connected home appliances or order things online using natural speech. They could also be using Nest, a smart home thermostat first introduced by Nest Labs in 2011, to save 10-12 percent on heating and 15 percent on cooling, according to the company’s website.
With billions of dollars pouring into the development of new IoT technologies for healthcare, driverless cars, and retail, many smart solutions for everyday problems are on the horizon. This staggering growth is driven in part by customers but also by industry demand for automation.
The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is a subset of the IoT that uses sensor data and Machine Learning to greatly improve efficiency, reliability, and security of entire industries, including logistics, utilities, process manufacturing, discrete manufacturing, and wholesale. Any large-scale application of the ecosystem behind the IoT could open a new era of economic growth.
Barcelona has implemented sensors to control park irrigation remotely in 68 percent of public parks. This alone helps the city save around $555,000 every year. Needless to say, money like this could be much better spent elsewhere. Furthermore, savings resulting from waste reduction and grid optimization are just one of many ways we could benefit from the IoT. Gary Shapiro from Consumer Technology Association says, “Each year, more than 30,000 Americans die and more are injured in car accidents, the vast majority of which are caused by human error. Driverless cars could eliminate 90 percent of these deaths and injuries.”
Of course, by handing over an entire profession to machines, we would have to face new employment challenges and deal with the very real possibility that there simply won’t be enough work in the future for everyone. Drivers and fast-food employees are likely to be among the first to be replaced by machines, but other professions, such as the one of an accountant, radiologist, translator, bank clerk, data entry specialist, and library technician are likely to follow soon after. Researchers from Oxford University published an academic paper which ranked 700 most common occupations and sorted them according to how easily computers and robots could replace them.
New economic models that would enable us to live comfortably side-by-side with AI-powered robots and systems include basic income. Proponents of this model argue for unconditional income for all citizens and residents of a country as a form of social security from a government or some other public institution, perhaps one established solely for this purpose. Ideally, this income would be high enough to allow people to live without a regular day-to-day job, allowing them to, instead, dedicate their time to charitable causes, education, science, entrepreneurship, and other beneficial activities and endeavors.
Just how exactly will the IoT shape the future is currently unknown. However, it is certain that the impact of the technology will be severe. Reflecting on how the world functioned just a few decades ago before the mass adoption of the internet can provide us with helpful clues about the potential of the IoT.