What will a world with a trillion IoT devices look like?

Amir Husain, founder and CEO of SparkCognition, explains

IBM Industries
Jan 22, 2018 · 3 min read

The following is excerpted from The Sentient Machine by Amir Husain, a member of the board of advisors for IBM Watson. Copyright © 2017 by Amir Husain. Excerpted with permission by Scribner, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

Today, billions of man-made objects that we interact with daily — cars, stoplights, toothbrushes, bridges — are being transformed from mere static forms to objects with cognition.

An ever-growing sophistication and intelligence in the programs that control these devices, ubiquitous connectivity between them, and a growing capability in the processors, sensors, and actuators to which they are connected promise to lead us into a future we can barely even imagine now.

In an effort to explain how I see this future evolving, I will paint a picture of IoT adoption in three waves.

The First Wave of IoT: Measuring and Tracking

We are already firmly in the midst of the first wave of the Internet of Things (IoT).

On the business side, we have sensors embedded in almost every major industrial asset — from generators and turbines, to pumps, grids, and drilling equipment. These sensors are being used to gauge the more obvious aspects of a system’s performance. They measure things like temperature and pressure and store these measurements for subsequent human analysis.

The Second Wave of IoT: Modeling and Predicting

In some areas, we are on the cusp of entering the second wave of IoT where data captured from first-wave devices will be used by the devices themselves to model the environment, their own behavior, and the behavior of other systems to predict the future.

In the world of business, we’ll not only see machines monitoring basic elements of performance, but machines that will use these first-order data streams to evolve deep predictive models that look for higher-order interactions of measured quantities such as vibration, temperature, and pressure to uncover the complex physics that drive systems in the chaotic real world.

We’ll also see network-connected systems that don’t just sense but act in an increasingly sophisticated way. These systems will include delivery drones, self-driving trucks and tractors, and increasingly sophisticated factory and warehouse bots that use vision to detect objects and sort products and packages.

The Third Wave of IoT: A Trillion Fully Autonomous Devices

In the third wave, the true potential of the IoT will materialize. We will have unlimited, easy to replicate, massively distributed, and federated network intelligence powering cognitive, fully autonomous devices. Sensors will become increasingly powerful not just because of the capabilities of the hardware, but because of the highly intelligent AI algorithms that will be able to fuse information from basic sensors into a coherent, granular, and complex picture of reality.

This will offer a type of picture that goes far beyond what humans are able to build with their eyes, ears, smell, and touch. This will be a world that is perceived most profoundly by the intelligent devices that inhabit it. The humans who built those devices will be left, largely, unable to experience this reality.

This third wave of IoT will include autonomous and mobile systems that sense and avoid conflict in messy, real-world scenarios. Consider, for example, algorithms that empower fleets of hundreds of thousands of autonomous drones to carry out and ever-increasing range of functions for their human owners, from crop dusting to the delivery of emergency medical supplies to policing towns and cities.

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