Credit: Chesky_W

What's Beyond IoT?

IoT Is Revolutionary, But It's Only the Beginning

December 14, 2017, Bruno Jacobsen

It's not by chance many companies such as IBM, Google, and Amazon are betting big on IoT and connected devices. Its potential is enormous and, with arrival of 5G, it might soon begin changing industries all over the world. IoT is a network of smart devices that are connected to each other and exchange data, but it is not necessarily sensitive and responsive to people. When it is, we call it Ambient Intelligence, something that truly resembles a futuristic scenario out of a sci-fi movie. 

In plain language, ambient intelligence are (electronically) smart environments, such as a combination of home sensors, phones, computers, screens, and others, that are sensitive and responsive to us.

Imagine, for instance, you come home from work and, on the way in, the building recognizes your face and let's you in automatically. When you get home, a smart device will tell you some recent news it knows you are interested in, and the fridge will tell you are a few grams short of minced meat for that lasagna you were talking about the day before. It then asks you if you want to order some, and you say yes.

While you finish some work remotely, you pick up a phone call from your boss who said they need you for a meeting next morning at 9:00. A digital screen at home automatically adds that to the calendar, and since it knows you should leave to work half an hour before it starts, and you usually wake up 1 hour before, it will set the coffee-maker to start at 8:10 next morning. All these devices and sensors are aware and responsive to you and your family.

A lot of this is powered by artificial intelligence, and we already experience some of it. Mostly in voice-powered assistants, like Google Assistant or Amazon Echo, to whom you can ask questions, call people, put on some music, order products, and much more. Things like Google Now, another Alphabet product, also searches the web for information it thinks you'll be interested in and shows it on your Android. 

But, in the future, this will likely be taken to new extremes. This technology will be so seamlessly integrated into our daily lives we won't think of it as something we are using. It will just fade into the background. Much like, for most of us, it's hard to imagine living without the internet today, which most people in developed countries spend the majority of their days connected to, once ambient intelligence becomes reality, it will be hard to imagine a world without it.

Privacy concerns

However, ambient intelligence does not come without criticism, mostly surrounding the future of our privacy.

Even when applied in public spaces, like hospitals or airports, ambient intelligence will necessarily capture more data than you are currently giving away. For personal and home devices, it will know your routines, your habits, and it will have access to pretty much all the information it needs to make your experience as seamless as possible, which also includes interests, conversations, financial data, and much more. 

This no doubt will require regulators to think carefully about a future with ambient intelligence. Will people eventually accept sharing this much data if everyone does the same? We're already giving up much more data today by using all the devices we do than we ever have in the past - will we just continue to become increasingly more accustomed to sharing personal data? Or will we need some new laws and regulations to deal with something that, today, still seems to come straight out of a sci-fi movie? And how can we coordinate these new regulations internationally, as we move towards a flat world?

These are all questions worth asking. Taking into account the speed with which technology progresses, it won't be long until this future materializes, and we need to be prepared for it.

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