IoT in electronics is revolutionizing the way we live and work

By | 5 minute read | November 1, 2017

We tend to think of fitness bands and the refrigerator as separate electronics. They have vastly different costs, functions, and purposes. One’s the size of a bracelet, the other’s the size of, well, a fridge. One tracks steps and heart rate while the other keeps your food dry and cool. The only quality they share today is coming in black and displaying the time. Otherwise these two devices occupy distant digital niches in our lives. Yet they both manage information critical to your health, diet and life.

The emerging technology ‘web’ for our lives

Scott Burnett, IBM’s managing director of consumer electronics, says we’ve reached a point with technology of thinking past devices as small engines or data-query tools. Instead we should view them as nodes in one vast network that collectively enable each other to streamline your life. “They’re not just my concierge, but my agents,” he says. Integrating data across all our devices finally unleashes the genie from the digital bottle. “We’re at the ‘Your wish is my command’ phase,” he says.

“ According to a recent IBM study, 91 percent of electronics business leaders said IoT would reshape their brand identity.

Every day, thousands more devices come online in the growing trillion-dollar Internet of Things market, a global ecosystem of connected devices. According to a recent IBM study, 91 percent of electronics business leaders said IoT would reshape their brand identity. IBM Watson has long powered each corner of IoT’s underlying intelligence in enterprise and industrial settings, optimizing everything from a skyscraper’s heating and cooling system to day-to-day operations of a coffee chain.

But now that underpinning intelligence is spreading to the far ends of the consumer IoT: exercise bands, baby monitors, garage door openers, the oven, home stereos, sprinklers for house plants, even holiday lights. Smart thermostats have shown consumers the tip of the iceberg, being able to adjust home temperatures remotely. But as Watson and IoT agents permeate our lives, people can leverage cognitive powers for far more than warming the house from work.

Orchestrating the data

Imagine if you decided it was time to trim some holiday weight. And your exercise band told your fridge, “Adjust diet to lose five pounds.” And the fridge synced with the pantry, and your phone, and your car to automatically build a new diet. The system, powered by artificial intelligence, would query healthy recipes on the web, itemize their ingredients for your next trip to the store (or automatically make the purchase with an online grocer) and sync that with your calendar and your budget –– all in the background. Not only that, but cognition within these networked devices would also understand how different flavor combinations work together, know your taste preferences, and devise fun, new recipes to help reduce sodium or carb intake.

Chef Watson, Trainer Watson, Accountant Watson and Personal Assistant Watson all in one. Now you’re free to think about what you want to think about –– kids, that novel, the trip to Mexico –– rather than stressing about managing diets and grocery lists. All you need to do is exercise and cook.

These visions of streamlined life, end to end, have been the province of sci-fi futuristic movies for some time. The challenge has simply been the data. First we didn’t have it –– today we are swimming in it. Now the question is, how to create cognitive feedback loops between the information sets. An exercise band and a fridge manage data in different places and in different formats –– how does one tell the other that you doubled your exercise output today, so increase the serving sizes to replace the calories accordingly?

That’s where intelligence like Watson come in. Today, AI systems can look across vast swaths of disparate data and start building relationships between them. Machine learning, or deep learning, allows systems to write new rules without human intervention. That’s critical for all these connected devices on the Internet of Things to serve a greater purpose. “The challenge is the explosion of devices and data,” says Brian Dalgetty, Offering Leader, Watson IoT Industry Solutions at IBM. “You can’t have hundreds of apps controlling all of them.”

Few markets have needed these kinds of changes as much as healthcare. Watson-powered connected devices are becoming the informational backbone for their physicians. No more long health questionnaires with (unintentionally) inaccurate answers about habits and diet. Now physicians get that data imported straight from the network. And families can participate more in relatives’ healthcare. Now they can see when grandpa’s having trouble getting around the house (and won’t ask for help) or even when he’s forgotten to water the plants.

Natural-language interface

That means getting back to the original interface: language. We already control our phones and homes with voice-activated devices. Now we need the intra-device networks to understand those commands across the network. IBM has started showing how business meetings powered with Watson intelligence automate all of the (monotonous) followups like notes and the scheduling of future discussions. Connected devices –– smart whiteboards, smartphones, email servers –– need to understand what each other and the humans are trying to accomplish.

“You need to change the whole human-device interface.” Says Christophe Begue, Director, Electronics Industry, IBM Americas. “This isn’t just natural language interaction but the ability to reason and change the outcome and learn over time.”

All of these connected devices continue to raise the question of security. Hackers don’t seem to be going anywhere so the Internet of Things requires experienced security experts to fortify each of these agents. IBM has spent decades providing bulletproof software for Silicon Valley’s biggest hardware and software providers and with Watson playing the role of everything from chef to chess champion, his computing power of tomorrow can also help ward off the bad guys.

Today, tens of thousands more devices logged on to the Internet of Things. They started sharing their data. They started looking for other devices to sync with. And these devices have owners that want hours back in their lives. They don’t want to think about grocery lists and meeting notes. They want to think about the people they love, their plans that evening, that vacation next week. Giving people time to think about the important things today means the agents of our life have the cognition of Watson’s tomorrow.

Learn more about IoT for Electronics.