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INTELLIGENCE OF THINGS (INSTEAD OF “CONTRARINESS”)

I look at my fridge … ‘You’re so dumb,’ I say of it in my thoughts with affection. ‘Even the ice maker and all your freezer programmes don’t make you half-intelligent.’

And my washing machine? Blissfully open to all the errors one can make washing things. Just recently it washed my jumper so the jumper can now fit a five-year old. Stupid machine.

Fortunately, in the not too distant future my immaculately laundered running top will be able to send to my fridge information about the number of calories I have burnt, while my phone, unbidden, comes in with the number of calories I need to top up the balance. The fridge will check the shopping list, compare the current weight of the shelves’ contents with that from the last time the shelves were stocked to see if they need restocking, and send an order to the shop. In the shop, robots will pick items from the shelves and pack them in a box, which a drone (the kind used by Amazon today) will deliver to my balcony. All being well, by the time I get back home or, at worst, by the time I’ve showered after jogging, my shopping will have been waiting for me, ready to be transferred to the fridge. Welcome to the Internet of Things.

Say what! That this world is a distant future? You’re kidding! According to Cisco, by the year 2020 the number of connected devices will have increased to 50 billion, from the CURRENT 25 million. IDC, the global IT market intelligence firm, believes the IoT (Internet of Things) market will have grown from 1.9 billion American dollars in 2013 to 7.1 billion in 2020.

As a president of a large company, I rub my hands in keen anticipation while looking at my dumb fridge and not a whole lot smarter washing machine. I am going to spread some of my optimism here and say why millions of consumers will have reason to cheer as well. If you’ve read my blog before, you will have seen the sharing and caring side of me. But I wouldn’t be a company president and a financial analyst if future profits didn’t make my heart skip a beat 😉

I am a realist too though, and you will see me smile benignly after I’ve let my heart race and skip. Because, after all, you know, there are actually a few problems with the IoT:

  1. Compatibility: however common some things are, they are not trouble-free. Take 3D television. It operates to two standards, one of which requires active and the other passive glasses. So, it didn’t quite catch on in Europe. The economics of it: the manufacturer requiring you to use active glasses has a dominant market position, but consumers can’t be bothered to recharge the batteries or buy several pairs of glasses – one for each member of the family. Television sets connected to the Internet also run on two operating system standards, and even if both read Internet content, the applications designed for one are no good for the other.
  2. Security: the cyber war between the world’s super-powers is on (e.g., Chinese hackers’ attacks on American institutions, American cyber intelligence units’ attacks on Iranian uranium enrichment installations a few years ago). Meanwhile, in the interests of our own security (of course), we are being eavesdropped on, spied on through cameras, while our email communications pass through systems, such as the American NSA, which filter practically everything looking for words and expressions which might indicate a terrorist threat. How can the consumer prevent his smart T-shirt, his watch or his other devices from being scanned if the devices constantly exchange his personal data through the wireless internet, which is “like the air we breathe”. I worry rather less about corporations (B2B will probably be one of the first areas to embrace the IoT) because they will be able to hire cyber experts. But individuals?
  3. Habits: can’t be changed overnight, so even though the rate of technological development will be fast, I am not sure if the market will grow at the rate forecast by IDC.

What I am really looking forward to is the implementation of the Industry 4.0 concept, where cyber physical factories make digital models on assembly lines and are capable of adapting themselves to the products they are making. These are factories where the machines used in the process of production are part of the product life cycle (Product Life Cycle Management, PLM), which requires involvement of all the product’s future users, including those at the very end of it who will deal with its safe disposal. Such self-programming, self-adapting and self-configuring factories will herald a world that sets my heart racing, more so than future profits: match sales offers to customers’ requirements with perfect precision while improving efficiency of the manufacturing process and the logistics to levels bordering on what is physically possible. And, of course, the less capital is tied up in stock, the more money available for research and development.

A few interesting links as usual for the curious readers:
The European Commission plays an active role in promoting various areas of human endeavor, including Industry 4.0. You can read about the Commission’s philosophy in this regard on: http://cordis.europa.eu/result/rcn/153920_pl.html

The Industry 4.0 concept was developed to a large extent in Germany. Siemens is interested in PLM being part of the Internet of Things. Far from plugging any particular company in these pages, I recommend Siemens’s website to learn about their PLM philosophy:
http://www.plm.automation.siemens.com/pl_pl/plm/

If you want to get hooked on the Internet of Things, go to this fantastic article in Wired magazine. It is a sponsored article, but the idea championed there whereby IoT is not about communication but about transmission of data from sensors is sound:
http://www.wired.com/insights/2014/11/the-internet-of-things-bigger/

And if you’re the kind who keeps a healthy distance to things, these articles about the Internet of Things from The Economist Intelligence Unit might suit you better:
http://digitalevolution.eiu.com/Are-you-ready-Smart-devices-are-about-to-change-everything

A list of online articles about the IoT in Polish is available on Wirtualna Polska:
http://tech.wp.pl/query,internet%20rzeczy,szukaj.html?ticaid=11572c

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