Lately, my work has taken me far away from my introspective musings on mindfulness, love and the funny coincidences that pepper our roads — or obstacle courses — as we navigate life. It all kind of started to shift when I began a job with a not unfamous global platform. That one decision (alright, a little introspection!) resulted in a network of tech savants.
Long story short: I’m on my way to becoming a bit of an expert in IoT, AI, VR and AR. Do you not know what those all stand for? If not, you’re not alone! So, I’ve decided to break down the latest tech revolutions for the less tech-minded. An IoT for Dummies so to speak. A little insight for grandma or that analog friend toting the agenda exploding with color-coded post-its.
If any of your friends belong to the 87% of people who do not know what IoT is, this article is for them.[i] For those of us in the know, this seems like a pretty hefty number. Especially when we consider the rampant spread of IoT applications. However, just because grandma has graduated from clapping off her bedroom lamp to swiping it off with her smartphone, she doesn’t necessarily understand the significance of this innovation or where exactly this technology is headed.
Back in the day, I used to eat up anything that imagined what the future might hold. I eschewed the Flintstones for the far more fascinating Jetsons. I dreamed about hopping forward a couple of decades in my own DeLorean. I even got a bit of pleasure from that insufferable, and in hindsight totally misogynistic, girl robot maid series, Small Wonder.
I’m relieved to say that my taste for futuristic films has improved over time. Now I prefer the likes of The Matrix, Inception, Gattica and Ex Machina. Suffice it to say, more than a majority of people get their ideas about — here it comes now! — artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) from Hollywood. We can’t all be friends with Stephen Hawking!
However… what films have shown us is a far off vision of what this technology may, one day, in a galaxy far, far, away… have in store for future generations. Sorry to disappoint you Xer, Yer and Zer Neo groupies … but the only realities you’re going to be altering are your own.
So… if we’re not going to be using this technology the way we often see it being used on the big screen, what exactly are we going to be doing with it? Or rather, how is it going to be affecting our day-to-day?
Let’s start with your car! If you’re driving a relatively new vehicle, chances are it’s outfitted with all kinds of doodads and whatchamacallits that make it possible to locate where you are, plot the best route forwards, park without ramming into the car in front of or behind you, connect your phone so you can talk, play music, write messages (hands free of course!). This capability is one example of the Internet of Things (IoT). What does that mean? Again, super simple, it’s the idea that things are interconnected via a network.
Here are some real world examples: that in-seat screen that provides downloadable entertainment to potential backseat drivers — OR — your access to different apps, like Spotify, on your display panel which render your car stereo obsolete— OR — the navigation system that tells you if there’s an accident up the road. A whole lot of software, sensors, electronics, networks are working behind the scenes to make this happen. That’s IoT!
The new Mercedes S-Class has 100 million lines of code (those incomprehensible lines of gibberish that make your computer turn on!). Is that a lot? Well, compare it to a Boeing 787 that only has 14 million lines of code.[ii] Bosch is working on an automated parking system that will not only find available parking spots, but also slide your car into those tight spaces for you.[iii] Your car is getting smart!
And now, the company NVIDIA is taking it to a whole new level! Business Insider recently published a great article on artificial intelligence (AI).[iv] AI is a reference to a machine’s intelligence. Its ability to recognize voices, make decisions based on input, respond to human requests. Think Siri!
So according to the article, science wizards at NVIDIA created an algorithm. What’s an algorithm? It is basically a set of rules. Facebook likes to talk a lot about its algorithm, so let’s use that as an example. Using its algorithm, a basic set of rules, Facebook determines exactly what kind of information we see in our Newsfeed. So… if I, the user
what shows up in my Newsfeed alongside those cat videos? Whatever the algorithm is programmed to determine X+Y+Z equals. Perhaps panda bears! But probably also a healthy number of articles, events and Pages related to policy, innovation and Currywurst.
But back to that article! These NVIDIA science wizards created an algorithm that allows a vehicle to process a whole bunch of Xs, Ys and Zs and make decisions based on all that information. For example, using those same sensors, electronics and networks that Mercedes S-Class has, this car might detect:
Based on this input, the algorithm might determine that the vehicle should slow down.
The more Xs and Ys the NVIDIA vehicle algorithm receives, the more decisions it makes and the more the car learns how to react in different situations. This branch of AI is called deep learning. In a nutshell, the car has a brain (a neural network) not very different from our own. It learns by experience. Just like you know from experience that taking a curve on a wet road should be done with caution, so too does this car learn how to behave under various circumstances.
The article goes on to talk about the controversy surrounding deep learning. Out of control AI that not even the writers of the algorithm can understand… It reads a bit like a less paranoid version of the plot of Ex Machina. But it’s a bit too complex for what we’re talking about here. Plus, I’ve talked to a physicist friend of mine who offered some reassuring opposing insight. I’m quite sure Stephen Hawking would disagree, but I can’t ask him, so…
IoT is not just about smart cars. As you may have noticed, AI involves the collection of a lot of information. This is called big data. You may have heard this term, too. Probably in connection with Google and Facebook, who are often accused of collecting loads of big data to sell us stuff. Another story for another day.
But this big data is also a gold mine for IoT. Let’s talk wearable technology, wearables for short, also known as fashion tech. Though many might argue that a lot of these smart watches are anything but fashionable…
So these wearables are constantly tracking our personal data. In the case of Fitbits or Apple Watches that means our heart rate, our activity, distance traveled, calories burned, amount of time slept. This information helps us monitor our health and fitness goals. And — here’s where it gets real IoT — you can use these devices to connect with other people in your circle of friends. Maybe challenge your pal to a workout, share your stats, cheer for each other, goad on that friend with a hangover who’s lagging behind. You can even connect to other fitness apps and crosslink information. Holy data!
And speaking of big data and wearables, a series of companies have started creating smart jewelry to protect against assault and attack. Something unassuming, like a pendant or bracelet, is fitted with a button that, when pressed, will text your location to a pre-selected circle of friends so that they can alert authorities who can then come to your aid.[v] All brought to you by IoT.
So what about grandma and those bedroom lights? That’s a matter for IoTed homes. Dozens of companies are producing devices that operate wirelessly and can be controlled by pre-programming them or even using an app on your smartphone. It’s only so useful to be able to turn on your lights remotely… but think of all the times you’ve left home and were suddenly haunted by the thought that you had left your stove on. Yeah. It’s kind of cool for moments like that!
Lights, appliances, thermostats, televisions all remote operable using apps or remote controls. Then devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home came along to IoT the hell out of this automated home stuff. Both devices are pretty slick and unassuming so you can stick them in any corner of your home. But the magic happens once you connect them with all your other devices (IoT!). Then you’re in for a Jetsons level home experience.
Start by linking to your digital music player like Spotify or iTunes Music. Then: “Alexa/Hey, Google!, play some Nirvana.” While Smells Like Teen Spirit is blaring from your (connected) speakers, you can set the mood lighting with your wireless LED lighting system. Dim the lights or perhaps even change the color depending on what kind of bulbs you’ve got. I’m thinking strobe for Nirvana. Get the latest news and weather updates, order pizza or an Uber (if you’re still doing that…). Depending on what device you’re using, you can even get Netflix to start playing whatever series you might be binge watching. All by talking to a pretty small device that happens to be interconnected to a whole lot of things.
Does this all sound a bit daunting and perhaps a bit unnecessary? Perhaps. I’m sure that’s what grandma said about the Internet. Um… I actually said that about the Internet! Back in 1996 when my high school class of about 20 was gathered in the school library around THE ONE computer that would let us dial into AOL. F!*#% this nonsense being the general sentiment. If anyone remembers what dialing into AOL was like, then you can forgive my initial disillusion.
Many of us were slow to jump on board the innovation bandwagon when it came to gadgets like electronic organizers (guilty), iPods and smartphones. But most of us who finally did, have come to realize the incredible capacity of these devices to simplify our lives. And distract us with mindless drivel, too… True story.
Now I haven’t elaborated much on AR and VR. Personally, I don’t think we’re so far along that the real world applications are totally relevant. Sorry to all you Google Glasses and Oculus geeks!
That said, if you’ve got a really new and really snazzy car, you may have already encountered head-up displays. Basically, they project all that information behind your steering wheel, and then some, onto the windshield in front of you. So… a bit more optimized for your viewing pleasure. And if Mark Zuckerberg has his way — and you can bet he will in the probably not so distant future — we won’t “need a physical TV… It’s actually pretty amazing when you think about how much of the physical stuff we have doesn’t need to be physical.”[vi] His grand plans for AR include a future with nifty looking glasses that can be used to project virtual objects, like TVs!, onto any surface.[vii] So if you’ve got cathedral ceilings at home, you could be in for a real IMAX experience!
Judging by how these innovations steam forward, I might have an AR/VR update sooner than I think. But for now, I hope you’ve got a better handle on what IoT, AI, VR and AR iare and how you might already be experiencing them! If you have any questions, just ask Siri!