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What is smart IoT?

IoT Development
Technology, Information and Media
Can today’s IoT (Internet of Things) devices get any smarter? Probably. Smart IoT is a rapidly growing branch that uses artificial intelligence to mimic human-like decision making. But is it something we really need? We voice our opinion.

The Internet of Things (IoT) dates its story back to Carnegie Mellon University in 1982. A humble Coca-Cola vending machine (which goes on to describe its experience) attained the rare distinction of being the first ever IoT device when it connected to the ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network).

ARPANET was the first ever wide-area packet-switched (a method your local internet provider uses even today) network and one of the first few to implement the TCP/IP protocol. All this was to make sure the poor vending machine reported its inventory and if new drinks were cold or not.

But IoT came to the fore with the rise of the smartphone after the iPhone debuted in 2007. Cisco reports that the things/people ratio grew from 0.08 in 2003 to 1.84 by 2010! The technology is so ubiquitous today that most of us don’t even realize we’re using it.

That begs the question…

What is the Internet of Things?

Let’s start with your home.

What if your devices could talk to each other through the internet to be a little smarter and make your life a lot easier?

Garden sprinklers that talk to your weather app and adjust water supply based on its information. Coffee makers that link to your alarm clock and have a piping hot Americano ready by the time you dawdle into the kitchen. 

A connected system of hardworking microcontrollers, actuators, and sensors works in tandem with communication hardware like WiFi and Bluetooth to make an IoT network, well, work. 

Works like a charm, no?

Not really.

Why IoT isn’t perfect yet

While devices talk to each other and act together with more knowledge, they still lack perception. Their understanding of any situation is confined to a single layer. You can trust them to be mature enough to act with spontaneity when circumstances change rapidly. In other words, today’s IoT enables devices to only perform an action in response to feedback, not modify it. 

Consider a home automation system where your lights, air conditioners, and thermostats track your movement to know they should switch on. Once they notice your lack of activity, they assume that you’re absent and turn themselves off. 

But, even a system as clever as this breaks in the face of something as prosaic as sleep. When you’re asleep, the devices notice your lack of movement, assume it indicates your absence, and promptly turn themselves off. It’s good IoT, but dumb execution.

Cognitive artificial intelligence (AI) makes such systems smarter by letting them perceive. Cognitive AI would take a few initial inputs from you and keep the system in line with your preferences without bothering you for constant, untimely inputs.

To paint a clearer picture, let’s step into the office of Microsoft’s Chief Scientist, Eric Horvitz.

How Eric made his office smarter

At the Redmond research lab that houses Microsoft’s AI researchers, Eric built an IoT system to handle visitors to the office. Strong AI powers his system to enable devices to perceive, learn, and reason. Together, they make it easier for visitors to find him and free up his human assistant to do more productive work.

Once you enter the ground floor lobby, a camera and computer immediately notice you. They calculate your direction, pace, and distance to make a prediction that ensures you have an elevator waiting for you. 

A robot greets you and asks if you need help locating Eric when you get off. As you reach him, a virtual personal assistant anticipates your arrival, checks Eric’s schedule, and asks if you’d like to be seated until Eric frees up. 

Although this entire chain of smart IoT devices received initial training (Eric built this in 2014, by the way), it used cognitive AI to collect data and learn on its own independent of programmers. For example, it taught itself how to react when you pause in the hallway to answer a phone call or pick up a pen. 

In other words, cognitive AI teaches smart IoT systems to learn from real-time data and optimize themselves for better performance. However…

What exactly is cognitive AI?

As the Turing Archive defines it, traditional AI is the science of making computers do things that require intelligence when done by humans. It augments human capacity. But cognitive AI replicates human capacity. 

It does this by modeling itself on the functioning and decision-making of the human brain. It analyzes and validates data to decide without human intervention. Built-in self-learning methodologies such as data mining and pattern recognition make this system flexible enough to adapt with changes in data. 

An everyday example of this is smart assistants like Siri and Alexa. They use Natural Language Processing (NLP) as well as cognitive AI to mimic human behavior and make leaps of logic to solve complex problems. Just like a human being, cognitive AI can reason, compare, and decide, which is the closest we can get to programming imagination into them. 

Eric’s case above may come across initially as hyper-niche. But it isn’t. There’s a lot to extrapolate and explore in there, with some of it already in practice within smart buildings and smart cities.

Windows, roofs, and AI: How smart buildings work

Ealy smart buildings used an IoT system to collect data from sensors. The building could then use this to save costs because devices would know when to switch themselves off. But, IoT systems typically rely on a boolean rule to manage devices, which often means they could react in ways that are completely out of sync with the situation. 

Cognitive AI will improve this by collecting equipment data from IoT sensors, tagging it by location or asset type, checking against business rules, and triggering algorithms that detect and respond to anomalies. 

AI is handy with real-time data analytics, drawing inferences, and allowing predictive maintenance. A recent development in the field is AI-powered hotdesking, where the building’s virtual assistant monitors available desk spaces (and even conference rooms) to let you know which ones are free to use. 

Concrete, signals, and AI: How smart cities work

A smart city does what it does by collecting data from mass urban settings, like important squares, avenues, and traffic stops. For instance, a smart city could collect real-time air quality data and study it to build improvement models. This would help usher in practical civic action and data-based politics. 

The same logic would extend to tracking water use, energy supplies, supply chain logistics, and empowering cognitive AI-powered IoT systems to gradually optimize the system with each passing day. An example would be Bill Gates’ proposed new smart city in Arizona, where he bought $80 million worth of land to start building. 

Do I need smart IoT?

Smart IoT has endless possibilities. From saving costs at home to trimming expenses at workplaces, sites, and factories, smart IoT can do wonders for your business. In fact, you can schedule a free one-on-one consultation with one of our specialists to understand if your business can even benefit from smart IoT. 

So if you’re looking to make your business smarter, hit us up here. Our team would love to brainstorm with you. Perhaps, the next big thing is just one conversation away from you and us?

Build a business that runs itself

Sujit Thorat

Sujit is an iOS engineer who enjoys discussing and talking about tech and gaming.

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