Artificial Intelligence and the Internet of Things

Science, Technology 2015-03-06

One of the most elusive challenges known to man is to understand the human brain, in particular the concept of the conscious mind and intelligence. Today, researchers are closer than ever to being able to mimic human intelligent behaviour using computer systems. It was in 1956 that a computer scientist named John McCarthy first used the term “Artificial Intelligence” (AI) in a study of intelligence carried out using a computer. It was thought that creating an intelligent system using manmade hardware, rather than biological components such as cells and tissues, would increase understanding of intelligence and have practical applications in the creation of intelligent devices or robots.

As AI is becoming a reality, fears have been aired about the future of AI. These fears are mainly based around the ability of machines to make decisions and take action without human intervention. There have been several films that have been based on the premise of AI and machines taking control, such as The Matrix and The Terminator. Like in the films, the well-known physicist Stephen Hawking recently said that the full development of AI could “spell the end of the human race”. He also said that the primitive forms of AI developed so far have already proved very useful (he currently uses technology involving a basic form of AI to communicate), but he fears the consequences of creating something that can match or surpass humans.

Today most of us use computers and smartphones (which are becoming the defining technology of the age) on a daily basis. There are 2 billion people around the globe using smartphones that are connected to the Internet. It is expected that by 2020, about 80% of adults will own a smartphone and it has been calculated that European and American adults use their smartphones for about 2 hours a day. Smartphones are changing the way people relate to one another and their surroundings. There are apps for most things that you can think of, for example fitness apps, cooking apps, apps for social media, for dating or for booking taxis.

Uber is currently the most famous app based company, valued at $41 billion because of the success it has had from making the smartphone into a remote control for taxis. Uber currently relies on Google maps for tracking its vehicles but has just acquired San Jose, California based mapping company deCarta. This will allow Uber to fine-tune its products and services that rely on maps including the way it computes estimated time of arrival (ETA) for customers.

Apps allow people to do more things on their phones and off them too. If something can be connected to the Internet such as a fridge or a TV then it can almost certainly be controlled by a phone or similar device. Thus phones have become central to the ‘internet of things’ (IoT), which is broadly described as the emergence of objects, animals and even people with embedded devices that are wirelessly connected to the internet. The IOT has developed rapidly in the last year and has run in parallel with advances in the field of AI.

An example of a new intelligent appliance that uses AI and is controlled by an app is the ‘Cinder Sensing Cooking’, which allows you to cook the perfect steak. When the lid of the appliance is shut the thickness of the food can be determined using sensors, and software programmed with algorithms is able to mimic the mind of a brilliant sous chef. The programming of the Cinder behaves a bit like satellite positioning software. Satellites run off limited fuel and can’t afford even slight navigational errors, similarly absolute precision is needed to cook the perfect steak. If the temperature was to overshoot the steak could be overcooked and there would be no going back. With this device you can’t fail to have your steak cooked just the way you like it. The controls for the Cinder technology are hosted by a user-centric iPad app.

In a similar way, wearable technologies that are connected by machine-to-machine communications are usually controlled by another device. Smart watches and fitness trackers etc. mostly work through the wearer’s phone rather than having their own direct connection to the Internet. This means that wearable technologies can be made with simpler circuits and smaller components with the phone acting as a remote control.

For some, the thought of devices communicating with each other is unnerving enough but Google scientists have developed the first computer program capable of learning a wide variety of tasks independently. This is thought of as a great step towards true AI. Elon Musk, one of the early investors in the technology expressed his concerns that “the risk of something seriously dangerous happening is in the 5 year time-frame. Ten years at most.” In response the Google team played down his concerns by saying that, “we’re decades away from any sort technology we need worry about.”


But what do you think? Do you think AI could pose a threat and outsmart humans in the future and what will happen when AI and IOT are combined? Do we have to accept that computers of the Internet might one day become conscious?

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Written by Emily Foster.