Whether you want to call it the Internet of Things or machine-to-machine communications or shorten those buzz phrases to IoT or M2M, the application in this way of what are now the relatively mainstream technologies of IP addresses and wireless communication will change the world forever.
The ability of many – or even most – objects to be embedded in the 'cloud' is going to change the nature of those objects and their derivatives. And the M2M dialogs will be done in a stealthy way, which many have disquieting echoes of the cell phone key tracking incident that is playing out as I write.
It would be easy to oversimplify the situation to: humans good, machines bad. Or more realistically to: some humans bad, machines neutral. But it would still be a simplification and before we do it must be remembered that machine-to-machine communications have the potential to do almost unlimitless good in the world, if harnessed up appropriately.
Freescale Semiconductor, recently held a one-day conference on the topic in East Kilbride, Scotland, attended by executives from Oracle, IBM, Google and others. It is trying to get close to the multidisciplinary teams that will be needed to create beneficial, reliable and secure M2M/IoT applications.
For example, Freescale estimates there are 1.2 million road deaths a year around the world. Imagine the benefit of car-to-car communications that could apply brakes faster than drivers behind the steering wheel and apply them closer to the ABS optimum to shorten stopping distances and avoid collisions.
Considerations of this and many other potential applications lead to the inescapable conclusion that an M2M revolution, if it is to come, will be based squarely on developments in wireless networks and security.
Many people won't like the thought of M2M / IOT. However, such communications already exists in many places and will continue to be added in here and there. Eventually people won't really notice that your car, phone, friends' phone, the roads and the restaurant reservation system are all talking behind our backs. You'll just be happy that the reservations where moved back a half hour, instead of being dropped, due to heavy traffic and the table was set for six instead of five because an extra piled into your car.
These things will happen. Yet we'll still be exclaiming our fear of the machine long past the point at which we are totally dependent on it. Come to think about it, we're pretty much dependent on it already...
Bob, yes, you are entirely correct. Love it, hate it or embrace it, increased automation is the new reality where rejecting it becomes less and less of an option for the majority of the population. Hopefully the level of enhancement and safety brought to our lives will outweigh the restrictions. I remain cautiously optimistic!
Richard, this is actually a response to your posting of 12/15 @ 11:02... the system doens't allow unlimited reply nesting. But anyway, your point in that posting is well taken. The degree of automation must also take into account the service domain: are we in Taiwan's traffic, or on the mountain road that leads to my home? And of course, are we driving a commuter vehicle, or a heavy truck. All of this matters to the total control system. My Toyota Highlander has a strange control system. You are facing a downhill road, wet or poor traction. You put the car in REVERSE(!!!) and push a button. The car then controls both the accelerator and the brakes (!!!) to bring the car down the incline safely. (!!!) I tried this in my driveway, about 1/3 of a mile long, changing altitude by 200' (it's wild.) It is the absolutely strangest feeling to merely steer, while a computer operates the drive system. Still, it is the direction the world is going. (Not downhill ;-), but towards automation.)
It looks like we’re both on the same page, but we are seeing points differently. A machine can certainly perform routine tasks more quickly, accurately, and with much more consistency than a human, but automation is also the system’s limitation. It cannot think; it can only follow its programming. That’s why the human element is just as great as a necessity as automation, and where you’re absolutely right that automation must be balanced. Where we have altering views is where the needle should sit, between the extremes of full human control (riding a bike) to full automation (taking a monorail). I suppose since I live in Taiwan where cars, pedestrians and armadas of scooters battle for right-of-way in sometimes very narrow alleys, I lean towards empowering drivers with more control. The potential for false positives exists at every intersection, where involuntary braking can be dangerous. Even if the computer braking system was highly debugged, just the sheer anticipation of “when is my car going to take over” would be an unintended secondary impairment on the driver, similar to having a jack-in-the-box on the dashboad.
I am channeling Isaac Asimov and Terry Gilliam
It remains to be seen whether Big Singularity will be run by Big State, Big Corp, (mighty fine line between the two), Big Masses, or by Big Singularity itself.
"Being a citizen of Alpha Complex is fun. The Computer says so, and The Computer is your friend."
Richard, it's somewhat banal to make this observation, but automation must be balanced against the both the average driver's capability and the poorer driver's capability. Your observation that the driver is often distracted is quite right... if cars were only driven by focussed, trained drivers, the situation would be different. Isn't much the same with the old argument of compiler vs. assembly? How many times did I hear "I can write tighter, better assembly than any compiler". And this may have been true: for 25 lines or so. On the average in the long-haul, though, compiler quality and consistency put most programmers to shame. (Not to mention documentation and maintainability--those are another thread.) Even in aircraft, pilots become distracted, or worse, disoriented, and some automation is there to keep the pilot from doing something that he really should think about first: a stick-pusher is an example. But agreed, agreed: automation is more than merely beneficial, it becomes more and more necessary as drivers are less and less engaged with their car, and more engaged with "whatever".
Bob, I do agree with you that given today's potential for distractions, computer aided assistance is not only beneficial, but mandatory. I do feel that this technology can be implemented in a way that coexists with the driver, rather than overriding him or her. Digital HUD speedometers have been utilized before; why not have a digital HUD target that tracks possible pedestrian hazards? The target color could graduate from yellow to red, with an alarm that sounds as the situation becomes critical. Radar detectors are effective at gaining the driver’s attention using similar progressive audio/visual cues, letting the driver apply the brakes before a speed trap.
Dr. Brazil, have you been channeling George Orwell? ;-). Just kidding: your comment points out the enormous possibilities for intrusive government abuse when monitoring technology can insert its sensors into the home. Even more likely than being reported for storing meat in your 'fridge is the likelihood that your purchasing decisions will be known immediately to the marketeers, the Sierra Club, or any of a number of groups who know what is best for you. You can see a parallel attempt to corral all of us into monitored dormitories in the incessant drive to eliminate private possession of firearms among the population. There's a limit to what the government can do to an armed population, and that limit galls. There's a limit to what the government can do with little knowledge of what goes on in your home, but perhaps the accelerometers in many electronic devices can be persuaded that they are really microphones...
The government of the United States would never stoop to unauthorized surveillance of its citizens, would it?