What Makes a Smart Product?

In 2005 during a Q&A session at the University of Nebraska, a student asked Bill Gates and Warren Buffett if they could have one superpower what would it be? After some deliberation the two converged on the trait of being a super-fast reader.

Being able to read super-fast would be great if for nothing else than the sheer amount of time one could save each day when brushing up on the news. Assuming that someone could not only read at incredible speeds, but also be able to recall the information they have read then this may give us humans a fighting chance at competing against IBM’s Watson on Jeopardy. But how much more could someone really benefit with such a superpower?

With the advancement of technology we have migrated from storing the information we need in our heads to offloading it online — on servers and computers — allowing anyone with an internet connection to instantly recall just about any fact with a couple keystrokes. This shows that the retention and recollection of information is not humanities bottleneck to progress, but instead it is our ability of making connections between the information we already have and drawing new conclusions.

Real smarts is achieved when we can perceive insight and recognize patterns that have been overlooked by the masses. The genius of individuals like Einstein, Henry Ford, John Paulson or even Bill Gates and Warren Buffett came from their ability to recognize what was missed by others, and acting accordingly. This ability of acute pattern recognition is what allows us to progress as a society.

This fixation with equating smarts with information accumulation and retention spills out with the recent fascination with “smart” devices. Connecting a device to the internet and generating massive amounts of data does not make a device smart in itself. What makes a device smart is the actionable events that can be autonomously executed based on the distillation of information gathered. When products and services can behave autonomously to a user’s exact needs and identify insights that were previously overlooked then it makes sense to call the device “smart”.

This shows two major requirements when creating a smart device. On one side, smart devices need to be able to understand their domain and how to best accomplish the task they set out to solve, i.e. a smart oven needs to know how to cook a perfect steak, or a smart thermostat needs to know how to best heat or cool a house. On a other side, smart devices also need to understand the context of their users, i.e. a smart oven should know to turn off the oven if it was accidentally left on, or a smart thermostat should be able to predict when the members of a household are about to wake and heat or cool the house before they rise. In order to achieve this, smart devices need to understand their users’ actions beyond their direct engagement with the product.

Smart devices should be intuitive and understand the context of their users’ lives and be able to adapt to individual’s real-time needs. Neura serves as this contextual awareness layer between individuals and their connected products and services. Neura automagically learns about an individual’s behavior and daily patterns. Users have full control over their data and can pick and choose what events about themselves they want to share with the products and services that integrate with Neura.

When the insights about a users’ day -to-day behavior is combined with the improved functionality of a connected product then we have the making of an actual smart device.

Originally published on LinkedIn.