What Star Trek taught us about the future of IoT

  • Posted on March 19, 2018
  • Estimated reading time 5 minutes
future of IoT

This article was originally written by Avanade alum John Hollinger.

In 1968, the Star Trek episode “Is there in truth no beauty” ran for the first time. In that episode, an alien came aboard who was so horrific to look at that for a human to lay eyes on them would drive the human immediately insane. This entity was accompanied by a human who seemed, for whatever reason, to be immune to this effect. However later in the episode, we learn that this “immunity” was because the companion was blind and only appeared sighted to those around her because of the thousands of sensors embedded in her garments, which were communicating with an implant in her brain. In fact, she had better sight that most because her sensors could detect exact distance, precise color, exact speed of movement, etc.

Scroll forward about 50 years. In "Origin" by Dan Brown (author of the Da Vinci Code), the reader is taken on a journey that ends with (spoiler alert: skip to next paragraph immediately if you don’t want to know) the prediction that technology and mankind will evolve together into a new species. The argument is made that while humans took thousands of years between evolutionary steps, technology is accomplishing the same result in mere months. It also puts forth that the natural integration of man and machine is inevitable (getting a vision of the Borg yet?)

In 1968, this was complete fantasy and utterly impossible to imagine – today it is a different story. We already have devices, which embed in living tissue that can participate in what we think of as the Internet of Things (IoT). Not sure? Think about drug pump implants or ID chips (we already do this with pets and some human trials have begun. Note: most recent was an organization experimenting with embedding a chip that contained your “payment mechanism” – you literally just wave your arm over the reader to pay).

So, what do these things have in common? The Internet of Things, which is real and exploding at an accelerating rate. This is in part because this concept has been considered by humans for decades. However, there is a catch with IoT.

As you may recall (or have read) Digital Equipment Corporation coined the phrase “the network is the computer,” which at the time no one was quite sure what the heck they meant, but in retrospect it is quite insightful. Take the IoT example – the value isn’t in one IoT device, or 10, or even 100, but rather in the 1,000’s that will be available and the degree to which these will reduce human work effort, improve decision making, and improve profitability, quality, and responsiveness of our corporate entities.

We must ask ourselves, what is the “play” for Avanade in this brave new world? Well assuming no one has quite yet created the implant that will allow these devices to transfer data with the most personal of all computers (your brain), what happens next?

Let’s look at this from both the individual and the corporate perspective.

From a corporate perspective we will likely see a progression that includes:

  • Rapid expansion of the number of IoT devices in the “network”
  • Continuation of applications making transactional decisions based on interacting with an individual IoT device (ex: think Caterpillar equipment has a part wearing out and an IoT device contacts Caterpillar to notify them – this currently exists and has for some time). This message is received, analyzed, routed to the appropriate dealership, and a technician shows up on site to replace the necessary part.
  • Data aggregation points will emerge. I shy away from calling them data warehouses because I don’t think they will look like the data warehouses we are familiar with. It will be closer to trying to emulate the human brain storing “memories.” These data aggregation points will be used to do longitudinal analysis of the data. Imagine for a moment that my database of memories for Caterpillar, not only stores “failure events,” but stores weather/environmental conditions. Perhaps during analysis, we find that specific part X fails 30% earlier when operated in a hot/humid environment. Now we can provide proactive guidance to our clients to conduct preventative maintenance well in advance.
  • IoT devices will communicate amongst themselves – again in a large construction vehicle there may be dozens of IoT sensors. In some form they have to communicate (perhaps some form of on-board collection and preliminary analysis device) to determine if immediate action, right there on the spot, should be recommended.
  • Finally, the data completes the loop and machine learning kicks in full speed – at this point we have a network of IoT devices that are getting “smarter” and more efficient.

The skills that Avanade experts will need here are clearly infrastructure-centric (making this network function while protecting it from outside forces), development (creating the code to receive IoT messages and process them), data analytics and machine learning (taking the mountains of data we will get from IoT devices and, in essence, trying as best we can to emulate the human brain’s decision-making), and lastly, intelligent automation (the likely next-best action based on input from IoT devices will likely be a route transaction that can be initiated by some form of Bot).

This world is coming – and everything we do is squarely in the path of it succeeding. Get ready!

Oh, on a personal note – I’m waiting for my brain implant but until then look for more and more IoT devices to use your smart phone as the electronic representation of you – and who knows, 50 years from now they talk about smart phones as quaint devices like we talk about rotary phones, because by then that technology may have “evolved” to become an integral part of Novo Human 😊.

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