Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence - Moving Ahead With Cautious Optimism

By Shantanu Som, Founder and Director, Som Imaging Informatics

Let’s think about a word – ‘connection’.

It’s a really life-size word – in every sense; from every angle; from every possible dimension.

We often say – we’re connected. What does that actually mean? Does that stand for ‘peer to peer’ connection only or it refers to ‘device to device’ connection? Or it speaks of a strange conglomeration of both? When we speak to someone – face to face, we keep staying connected; but this type of ‘peer to peer’ connection can, any time, be locationally challenged. Distance is a key factor here; but, we’ve found a solution to this problem. Now we can talk to someone sitting on the other side of the globe. It could be a video call or chat. No matter, whatever be the distance, technologically we’ve succeeded in dealing with this hurdle by bracketing the ‘light and sound’ together.

So, at least from one angle, we can assert that: yes, we’re connected. Let me add another angle to it: how about delegating this responsibility to a machine which could speak on behalf of you? You’d say, why, we’ve done that too. Voice message tells the caller to put the voice in a recorder and it keeps that voice for the future use. To some extent, we’re successful because we’ve been doing this for some time. There are possible scenarios which are more complex and sometimes sound like science fiction. Think about Artificial Intelligence which would help a machine think like you and even act like you. All we need only one thing – connection. And, as we’ve already said: we’re connected; because, internet has been there to help us achieve this goal now.

In reality, it’s nothing but a vision; an apparition of connected devices.

Now we can sum it up in medium-tail keywords: Internet of Things. In short-tail keyword or in one word we articulate it as: Internet of Things.

The situations could be wildly different but the devices, we’re talking about, are connected. Behind every work there is a purpose and finally there is an outcome too. What will be the end goal ultimately it serves? Behind the connected devices, services, vendors and efforts involved, the end goal is capturing data which we can use to measure and control the world around us.

You can guess by now that the scope of IoT is quite big, in fact, it’s humongous; so, why not we concentrate on one single entity and see how it helps us. Think about a virtual assistant, based on natural-language speech recognition and we know that Google, Microsoft and Amazon each have their own home-offerings: Amazon’s Alexa, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Google’s Google. If you pronounce ‘Chinese food’, it could book a table in the nearby restaurant of your choice through an application; although, it has its own pros and cons.

We are aware by now that there is a broad range of networked information-gathering devices working seamlessly. They are increasingly being deployed in public space and that includes CCTV cameras; commercials and vending machines equipped with biometric sensors. There are indoor devices known as “beacons” and they often combined with a smart-phone app sending signals and that signals finally provide information about close at hand products and services.

By far we’ve come to know that IoT is all about devices, from simple sensors to smart phones and they can talk to each other over the internet. In that way, the internet of things (IoT) is transfiguring how we live; the scopes are endless – now we can “optimize” our lives through sensors by tracking our heart rates. We are now in a position to enhance and – watch the word-tail – ‘control that enhancement’ of our lives through IoT which presents many new possibilities.

What do you think? Wouldn’t be it foolish to dismiss those possibilities out of hand? Wouldn’t be it foolish to dismiss those possibilities to get worried just because there is also likelihood of devastation? By now we know about what the world-renowned British physicist Stephen Hawking has said because he’s been saying it for a long time: ‘advances in science and technology could lead to the end of the world’.

Stephen Hawking fears that artificially intelligent weapons could create "a global arms race" in the future. He has signed an open letter along with other eminent scientists, technologists to regulate the unchecked advance in AI. Why they fear? Why they’re hell scared? It’s because those machines are connected – IoT!

I’d like to conclude this piece with an academic research-article by Celine Brantegem: Ceramics Turning into Humans. The Meaning and Use of Moche Portrait Vessels of Northern Peru (100 – 800 AD). The Moche people lived on Peru’s north coast and they were master craftsmen in gold and ceramics. They had premonitions. They had feelings that something, especially something unpleasant, is going to happen. How it’d take place? According to their perception everyday objects might, one day, come to life with menacing consequences. Can you hear the inner-voice of Stephen Hawking?

What happens if, really if, the Internet of Things turns on its makers?

You need not be an outright sceptic. We know technology couldn’t be answer to everything; so, why not properly explore the ethical and philosophical issues that arise in connection with IoT? We could think of more realistic model that could result in increased well-being and finally there’s no fear of us getting lost.

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