Internet-connected devices are sharing information to improve and personalize performance, all while expanding upon a collective knowledge base. Will your toaster get along with your new car?
There’s a famous Charles Darwin quote about how it isn’t the strongest, or most intelligent species that survives, but “the one that is most adaptable to change.” It’s a great quote, and a powerful mantra in this world of unknowns. It’s too bad Darwin never said it.
Even without the gravity of one of the greatest minds in history to give it weight, the quote has some sense to it. Adaptation is key to the process of evolution. In our own struggle for survival, humans adapted to challenges by creating tools that allowed us to shape and design our surroundings.
Now, our tools themselves — our Internet-connected objects and devices — are able to learn from accumulated data and experiences. They’re evolving from reactive gadgets to dynamic, adaptable systems designed to automatically improve efficiencies and personalize performance to better suit the needs of their owners.
“The Internet is morphing from the global library into the global supercomputer,” said Mike Liebhold, senior researcher and fellow at the Institute for the Future, in a recent interview. “By 2025, almost every application or service we can imagine will be enhanced by the application of enormous computation, enabling widespread applications of capabilities like mining, inference, recognition, sense-making, rendering, modeling, as well as proactive contextual computing.”
When Elon Musk made the technology behind the Tesla vehicles free to anybody who wants it, he essentially ushered in the age of the electric car. That’s great news for the environment, and, with fuel prices being what they are, it’s probably good for driver’s wallets. With zero emissions, and packed to the brim with all kinds of cutting-edge technology, driving a Tesla definitely invokes a futuristic feeling.
But when Sahas Katta, CEO and founder of Smartcar, first drove the Tesla Model S, he “felt something was missing.” He said, “Despite all the innovative tech, the car still wasn’t learning about me.” So he set out to change that. The Smartcar service connects to Internet-connected electric cars over cellular networks. It learns its driver’s schedule and preferred temperature, so it’s not exerting extra energy when driving or unplugged.
While charging, Smartcars only draw electricity from the grid when energy rates are lowest, and stop charging when they’ve reached just the required amount you needed for the day. The company estimates that the service, which costs $100 per year ($50 for preorders), could reduce a driver’s electric bill by up to 75 percent.
Electric cars may be the future, but electric homes are the present and there’s no shortage of smart devices that promise to save money. Unlike many, which are dedicated systems or appliances, the Parce One is a smart plug — compatible with standard devices or appliances — which connects to a cloud-based service making any old home a smart one. By learning the patterns of energy use in a home, Parce is able to regulate which devices are receiving power throughout the day. If something’s on that normally wouldn’t be, the service can send you a text asking if it’s okay to turn it off. Parce could potentially save up to 50 percent on energy, and more than half a ton of CO2 per year, basically paying for itself within 6 months.
Adaptive machines that learn from the unique particulars of a user’s life are revolutionary, but that’s just the beginning. A few computer scientists recently learned that a computer could not only learn how to play the classic Pac-Man video game well, but could go on to teach other computers how to play it even better.
The researchers assures that the findings are limited to “sequential decision-making tasks.” Also, there’s not a huge market for exponentially impressive Pac-Man playing machines. But, if instead of a high score, the point of the game was having to charge a battery as infrequently as possible, plenty of iPhone owners might be enticed.
Thankfully the Smart Composite Human-Computer Interfaces (SMARCOS) project is here to help us break the ice with new devices. SMARCOS has developed a system that will allow all of the various Internet-connected devices that are learning so much about you to share that information with each other. That way, when you hook that new toaster up to your home, your coffee maker can let it know that you like to wake up early, and your stereo can give it the scoop on your favorite pre-work playlist. You’ll also be able to monitor exactly what data is being gathered, and who it’s being shared with. It would be a shame to find that your alarm clock gossiped about your high-cholesterol diet with the insurance company.
As we enter this age of interconnectivity, the potential benefits are clear. Greater efficiency, dynamic convenience and a baked-in bent toward environmental responsibility. There are also potential dangers that need to remain always at the forefront of our considerations. In an ever-changing world of unknown outcomes, systems that learn and adapt are powerful tools, but it’s up to us to make sure that they’re used with our best interests in mind. After all, human beings are some of the most successful adaptive machines on earth.
In the Real World Web, iQ by Intel and PSFK Labs explore the role Internet-enabled technologies will play in connected ecosystems of the future. This series, based on a recent report, looks at the rise of the Internet of Things and its impact on consumer lifestyles.