IoT, AI, And Blockchain: Time To Reimagine The Art Of The Possible?
Growing up during the 1960s and ‘70s, I was immersed in the popular science culture of that era. From the discovery of DNA to early computers to moon landings to Star Trek, I was intoxicated by a sense of wonderment and what might be possible.
Skip forward more than a few decades, and that sense of wonderment is starting to return.
This time, I’m captivated by powerful technologies such as the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, and blockchain, all powered by cloud computing. Individually, these technologies deserve all the attention they’re getting as enablers and disruptors, yet we’ve barely started unlocking the full potential of any one of them. But take them together? Their transformative effect becomes multiplicative, almost demanding that we reimagine the art of the possible.
Intelligent Sensors Abound
Let’s start with the Internet of Things, or IoT. Historically, humans made measurements and gathered data manually. The process was time-consuming and error-prone, as well as expensive.
In our new world of cheap sensors and cheap connectivity, we now can cost-effectively gather billions of data points, analyze them, and act on them in fractions of a second. As a result, everything around us is becoming an intelligent sensor: from factory machines and automobiles to even law enforcement officers.
Next up: artificial intelligence, or AI, which allows machines to reason and learn in ways once associated only with humans. Combine AI with IoT, and you have something vastly more interesting than either one by itself—the ability to recognize meaningful patterns buried in mountains of data, and do so in fractions of a second, in ways that would be exceptionally difficult for most humans. Better yet, the algorithms get smarter over time.
Now, let’s add blockchain. Far more widely useful than for just crypto- currencies such as Bitcoin, blockchains create unalterable, persistent, and searchable records of events, transactions, contracts, and official documents.
If we think beyond the realm of humans interacting with each other, and look forward to the new world of autonomous systems interacting with each other, blockchain technology gives us a simple, cost-effective, and permanent record of decisions made and communicated on our behalf.
And, finally, the cloud: virtually limitless IT resources, available on demand, to power it all.
The Power of Three
Now, let’s stretch a bit, and consider what these technologies could do together in the near future.
Today, we’re just starting to use voice assistants to ask questions and buy stuff on the internet. What if we turned the model around?
Household IoT sensors monitor what we’re consuming. Then AI reaches out to us when it thinks we’re running out of a staple, asks us if we want to take an action, and we verbally confirm—with the whole series of events recorded via blockchain in the event of a dispute.
You’d never run out of coffee or paper towels again.
Here’s another example. Today, we periodically interact with healthcare professionals, usually in a painfully inefficient way. I have to schedule a doctor’s appointment, sit in a waiting room for awhile, try to remember my medical history, and answer a bunch of questions before we can get down to the business of healthcare advice or treatment.
I, for one, would be OK with wearing smart health sensors to monitor my medication intake. I also would be OK with AI reaching out to me if it detects a problem with, say, my blood pressure or sugar levels. Or even to natter at me when I’ve yet again neglected to take my meds.
Providing those detailed historical health records to a medical professional of my choice should be simple and easy, as should moving between healthcare providers. They aren’t today. An IoT application would sense my health and activities, AI would watch and react, and all interactions could be verified and protected via blockchain.
It’s a completely different model for routine healthcare, if you think about it.
A third example?
Cybersecurity is on everyone’s mind—or it should be. Think of our information systems as huge IoT sensor networks, recording and analyzing every action, every keystroke. Powerful AI can help spot anomalies over all of them in real time, identify potential threats, and take protective action without human intervention. All recorded on an incontrovertible, shareable log in perpetuity.
Our minds must stretch when we envision the impact of these three technologies taken together. It’s hard for us to wrap our heads around this new art of the possible. So much is changing in such a short timeframe.
But envision the future we must, because it’s coming at us fast.