The Internet of Things has something of an image problem, but it doesn’t have to be the way. Headlines surrounding the subject tend to play up the security risks of connected objects or question the utility of connecting household gadgets. Is it really that useful to connect your washing machine to the internet? And most people know next to nothing about the technology’s import for industrial applications.
As it turns out: yes, it is. With an IoT washing machine, if it gets off balance, you get a notification immediately on your trusty smartphone, which in this day and age hardly leaves your side. Instead of finding out an hour later that your washer needs your help, you get an alert right there and then. If you have a connected refrigerator, you could see in real time at the grocery store whether you are almost out of apples.
While countless headlines play up the potential security snafus of the Internet of Things, there is barely a mention of the its potential to improve the security of everything from schools to urban areas. Connected cameras or gunshot detection systems could instantly notify police that there is a sniper in, say, a school.
The possibilities extend much further beyond connecting household gadgets and security. Many technology pundits believe we are on the cusp of a new industrial revolution, where devices can warn shop floor owners of potential problems before they occur while bolstering efficiency. In the near future, machines could even transact business with one another. But an average person is likely to only have a vague idea of the power of IoT technology.
In the following Q&A, the New York City–based technology consultant Adam Gabriel points out some of the most exciting possibilities of the IoT while also highlighting some of the companies that can convey the power of the technology to the public. There’s a real need for IoT companies to craft a message that resonates with the general public, and leaves a lasting, positive impression, he says.
Q: Which companies do you see as standing out in the IoT industry and what sets them apart?
A: On the consumer side of things, Apple is a clear standout. The iPhone is the original IoT device, and Apple has built an ecosystem around it that is hard to beat. The integration between iPhone, Watch, iPad, TV, and iMac is seamless and effortless. All of these devices are connected to the Internet — making them IoT devices by definition — and all make use of the AI smarts of Siri. And Apple’s brilliant marketing of its wares makes sure it stays constantly in the public’s imagination.
On the industrial side of things, I do believe that GE will succeed in its goal of making Predix the de facto standard that the machines that power our lives use to communicate and interact. Be it the engine that flies your plane, or the MRI machine your doctor uses, GE makes all of that and more, giving it a huge ecosystem — just like Apple, so it’s uniquely positioned to create a software platform that’s integrated into everything it manufactures.
Q: What technological trends are you most interested in at the moment?
A: This is probably off the beaten path, but then again, talking about novel things avoids the tedium that sets it when you're talking about what everyone else is talking about. I personally want to find out if cognitive computing and fashion have a future together. Yes, the Watson-powered Marchesa gown with LEDs that changed color to correspond to social media sentiment got a lot of coverage, but is this something that is scalable, or is it a one off done by IBM to illustrate the versatility of Watson, but doesn't really have a growth path?
I’m also most interested in drones. While it may seem like science fiction, I actually have the world’s tiniest camera drone, the Nano 2 FPV by TRNDlabs. It fits in the palm of your hand, has accurate gyroscopic control to make it hover in place. It does cool flips, streams video to your phone, can be controlled totally by your phone should you wish, and does all of that for less than $100!
On the other end of things, the big drones with independently maneuverable, professional 4K cameras are disrupting the movie industry by providing aerial cinematography at a mere fraction of the cost it takes to hire a helicopter crew.
Q: What are your thoughts on IBM's Watson technology?
A: Ginni is betting the farm — IBM's whole future — on Watson. With the sale of the ThinkPad brand to China's Lenovo, the general public has nothing to represent IBM in its collective conscience. Your average Joe knows and cares nothing about reliable racks of servers. So IBM created a series of clever, sexy ads showing Watson interacting with celebrities, each of which is a heavy-hitter in their fields. Naturally, IBM exaggerated the actual capabilities of Watson to make the ads more memorable and effective — or at least left out that Watson can perform at that level only after extensive training in each of those fields. In the end, Ginni/IBM/Watson will have to deliver on those extremely heightened expectations generated by those ads, otherwise, the repercussions on IBM's share of AI solutions via cloud computing will be severe.
I believe IBM will succeed, and the connection between Watson and IoT deserves to be highlighted. After all, IoT devices generate copious amounts of data, and Watson’s ability to ingest all that data at dizzying speeds, analyze it, and use deep learning and cognitive computing to uncover patterns and make predictions that are beyond the ability of any human brain’s bandwidth makes it a formidable tool.
Q: IBM’s commitment to Watson reminds me of GE’s focus on Predix and its digital business. What do you make of GE’s attempt to reimagine itself as a software startup?
A: Predix may have gotten its start in 2015, so in that sense it is a startup, but GE of course as a behemoth corporation is far from one. Remember: pre-Predix, GE did write software to make its products hum. It’s just that each product had control software written for it specifically, and those software modules didn’t talk to each other. They had no need to.
With Predix, all those modules are created using one open source platform, designed to foster communication, so that a Virtual Machine in the cloud can gather all the data from all the components of an airplane, compare it to a software model of each component — a digital twin, and decide whether the aircraft needs servicing, and what exactly needs to be serviced.
Q: You've worked in Cairo, Los Angeles, and New York. Any insights on the technological landscape in those three cities?
A: Cairo has a thriving technological and scientific community. Egypt gave us Dr. Ahmed Zewail, 1999 Nobel Laureate for his work in femtochemistry. And where did I meet him? Los Angeles. More on that below in my answer to your question about Mensa.
As for New York, Silicon Alley is giving Silicon Valley a run for its money in terms of the startups that end up becoming household names. Foursquare was birthed there. So was Warby Parker. Watson lives here.
New York Tech Meetup is the largest meetup group in the world, with over 60,000 members. When we meet monthly to talk shop, we need the 700 seat Skirball Auditorium. So if you’re a techie that lives elsewhere, and you want to live in the greatest city on earth, we have work for you — lots of it!
Q: Speaking of cities, do you have any favorite smart city projects?
A: Amsterdam. I’ve always found this city fascinating, even before it started getting smart in 2009. And I’m glad that making it smart is not interfering with its character, its unique persona. Creating a system that adjusts the street lights based on pedestrian traffic is wonderful — as long as those street lights are not all switched out for the “latest and greatest” in lamppost design, which would aesthetically not blend in with the architecture, and lose the city its endearing charm.
Q: How is it that you have a Mensa membership in France?
A: I actually took my Mensa exam in CalTech, the California Institute of Technology. That’s where I ran into the late Dr. Ahmed Zewail — in the parking lot of all places. This was in 2000, he was fresh on the heels of his Nobel Prize win, yet was as approachable and affable as could be.
But when it came time to put that on LinkedIn, for the life of me I could not find Mensa USA. Since I do speak French, I thought Mensa France - whose badge was available to add to profiles - would have to do.
Q: Last question: Much of our audience has an industrial background. What advice would you give industrial companies that are in the midst of launching ambitious digital transformation initiatives?
A: Use video. In the industrial world, we’re all about product spec sheets, comparison charts, and geekspeak. None of that engages your average Joe.
What did GE — a titan of the industrial world — do when it wanted to galvanize the public around its digital transformation? It created a series of clever, funny ads that highlighted the fact that if you got a job nowadays at the company, you will be writing the software that makes the train run, instead of building the actual train. It didn’t mention Predix, for that would be too technical to put on TV, yet managed to very clearly convey to you that the company was going digital.
If it’s good enough for GE, it’s good enough for your industry.