The trivergence: Consolidating the power of IoT, Blockchain and AI
- Posted on April 1, 2022
- Estimated reading time 8 minutes
Let’s picture a patient in the near future.
The patient is outfitted with a smart bracelet which, via inbuilt sensors, is capable of 24/7 heart rate monitoring, blood diagnosis, sleep analysis and body temperature measurement where data collected is analyzed in real time by an AI system. The AI system merges data from the bracelet with other records it has access to such as: the patient’s medical history, routine lab results and doctor’s notes from past hospital visits. It even has access to other mundane sources such as the patient’s daily smart bathroom-scale readings and nutritional and dietary data based on the information obtained from the smart fridge that shares all grocery orders (assigned to the patient’s shopping profile) made via the patient’s online grocery delivery service of choice. Along with years of insight drawn from billions of online insurance claims, health records, research papers and genetic databases, which the AI system has access to, it’s able to quickly detect any health anomalies (even before the patient feels any symptoms) and alert to potential health risks. All this sensitive patient information which is being accessed is safely stored on the blockchain, which enables secure, permissioned data access with a verifiable audit trail.
IoT, Blockchain and AI are exceptional technologies in their own right, and when combined, create a very formidable synergy. In this article we’ll take a look at this combination for which technology visionary Don Tapscott coined the term trivergence, but first of all let us undertake a quick refresher.
What is IoT?
IoT (Internet of Things) refers to interconnected “things” within the physical world brought online by interfacing them with either a public network such as the internet or a private network. It should be noted that these “things” could be inanimate objects such as phones, computers, fridges or other electric devices, but could just as well be living beings such as animals or people. IoT endpoints are routinely fitted with sensors with which data (such as measurements or statistics) can be collected. The collected data is referred to as telemetry. IoT telemetry systems enable data to be collected remotely, sometimes from locations which are difficult to physically access. One of the largest challenges with IoT systems is the safe monitoring and securing of the associated IoT endpoints. Another challenge is the storage, processing and encryption of data at the endpoints due to the often-limited memory, processing and storage capabilities of most endpoint devices. These challenges harbor a number of privacy and security risks, considering that no universally accepted, IoT related security regulatory standards, frameworks or guidelines exist to date.
Avanade offers cutting-edge solutions tailored to the efficient security management of your IoT and OT devices. These include secure by design principles that include end-to-end awareness and defense against sophisticated attacks utilizing Microsoft Defender for IoT and Defender for Cloud, implemented within a Zero Trust environment.
What is Blockchain?
Blockchain technology supports a shared database which is a form of distributed ledger, for the recording of transactions and tracking of assets on a network. Assets are digital representations of things of value in the real world that can either be tangible (e.g., real estate, a boat, cash, jewelry etc.) or intangible (e.g., a contract, intellectual property, a patent etc.) and can be traded as well as tracked on a network. A Blockchain network is extremely secure because a shared immutable ledger which records the entire encrypted transaction, is updated via peer-to-peer replication each time a transaction gets carried out (important note: when using blockchain, data at rest, in use, as well as in transit are fully encrypted). This way, interaction using a universal source of truth is guaranteed between every single node on the network. With the help of smart contracts, which are transaction protocols implemented as code within the blockchain, rules of transaction can be enforced. These speed up transactions by circumventing the need for trusted intermediaries such as arbitrators, escrow agents or clearing houses.
In actual fact, blockchain is a trustless system.
The following key concepts embody the qualities that make blockchain technology so interesting:
- Consensus: All participating nodes of a blockchain dynamically reach agreement on the validity of a transaction. This is done with the help of a consensus mechanism.
- Provenance: Asset trails are auditable and traceable by everyone on the network. This means every participant knows the exact origin of every asset and can track how its ownership has changed over time.
- Immutability: This means that all blockchain transactions are tamper-proof. In other words, they simply cannot be tampered with once they have been added to the ledger. For any transaction made in error, a new transaction must be initiated to reverse the error transaction. However, all transactions, even the faulty ones, remain visible, albeit encrypted, on the blockchain.
- Finality: This describes the principle that once a transaction goes through, it cannot be changed or reversed. This principle is enshrined in the blockchain consensus mechanism and adds an additional layer of guarantee that all past transactions are immutable.
Is Blockchain right for your business? Let’s guide you through the process of deciding with the help of the Avanade Blockchain Evaluation Framework.
What is AI?
AI (Artificial Intelligence) refers to a field combining computational power and huge amounts of data to simulate human-like intelligence, organic decision making and problem-solving capabilities. It entails the planning, design and creation of intelligent systems capable of processing large data sets gleaned from IoT endpoints. For example, AI is used to extract patterns and insights which can be utilized towards carrying out tasks such as predictive maintenance or to better understand user behavior with the aim of iteratively updating, improving and optimizing the operation of a system. A subset discipline of AI, known as Machine Learning, focuses on enabling computer systems to build models based on sample data sets (aka training data), to make predictions or take decisions beyond the algorithms it was programmed to execute, thereby improving its capabilities.
Interesting fun fact: The hypothetical point in time at which AI computing power supersedes the capabilities of all combined human intelligence has come to be referred as the AI Singularity. It is widely speculated that this point could be reached by the year 2045.
Avanade is working on a number of exciting projects like the use of Azure Digital Twins to support the birth of thinking machines, to provide the memory to support context and computing power.
Bringing it all together
IoT has never been more commonplace in our society than can be observed today. From smart fridges that are able to reorder groceries on their own to thermostats that can be turned on while driving home from work via mobile apps, to heart and blood glucose monitors used to monitor vital statistics, the internet of things practically surrounds us ubiquitously. Gartner predicts that there will be more than 15 billion IoT devices connected to enterprise infrastructure by 2025. This expansive network of IoT devices will create all sorts of real time data reporting capabilities, and the sheer amount of sensing capabilities will generate an almost immeasurable amount of telemetry data.
An interesting analogy can be made here: IoT provides a vast connected network over which signals are sent and received, just like a nervous system. AI acts as a brain that receives the sensed data, processes it and uses it to make intelligent decisions, while blockchain provides an abstraction layer of trust and transparency.
Think of a world in which billions of “things” are interconnected to an expansive ecosystem in which they can trade goods and services, are able to perform transactions on assets within a secure environment and where every action is trackable in real time, with AI constantly providing decision updates and recalibrating the overall system operation based on analysis of data received.
The trivergence is gearing up to disrupt common technological notions and will mark a sharp departure from old ways of accessing and processing data as everyone and everything will be integrated into a vast neural network of interconnected animate and inanimate “things”, generating a continuous surge of data. Blockchain technology will be used to record and secure this data in its ledger, providing autonomous data control and guaranteeing privacy and security to its owners. All of this will be powered by AI with its ability to learn from all the data sets and synthesize new knowledge to fill gaps humans have failed to or are not able to address.
If the impact IoT, Blockchain or AI have on the world today is anything to go by, we can quite comfortably predict that the trivergence will disrupt almost every industry sector when it fully arrives on the scene, since its ripples will be strongly felt in the society at large. We need to prepare for this new era through a massive training and research push, to enable secure innovation and a smooth transition to this exciting new paradigm. It’s worth highlighting that solutions built around the trivergence need to be created compliant to security standards. Taking the scenario at the beginning of this article as a microcosm representative of the world at large, it should be ensured that trust and privacy is guaranteed within organizations such as hospitals, insurance companies, medical device manufacturers, online grocery stores and all other entities involved in processing a patient’s data. Only by bearing such considerations in mind, will we be adequately prepared for full scale trivergence.