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Internet of Everything and Machine Intelligence

Let’s start on a light note. For a brief period of time, the Internet of Things became associated with the fridge that orders milk by itself. This retro-futurist icon is a great example of a common tendency for extremely disruptive technological waves to first enter the public realm in the form of low impact nice-to-have use cases (personal computers and robotics suffered the same fate at first). Besides being amusing, these are also instructive. The small-mindedness of a fridge that has a direct line to the supermarket is a great way to make a really important point: the value of the Internet of Everything (IoE), ultimately, is about the network, not the individual connections.

The IoE will treat the home as a living system of devices; the manufacturing sector as a society of robots and sensors; the retail sector as a never-ending multi-channel interaction; and the city as a hive of homes, retail outlets, factories, utilities and infrastructure. Accordingly, its disruptive nature will not primarily lie in the time-saving effect of automating simple tasks but rather feeding from, and feeding back into, intricate economies of network and of scale. The IoE will manifest itself in enabling previously unthinkable efficiencies and capabilities.

We are nearly there. Ubiquitous sensing, connectivity and processing are enabling continual data capture and exchange in a rapidly increasing variety of physical settings. These mini-nervous systems are still islands – the home, the hospital, the school, the manufacturing plant – but soon they will be subnets of an emerging interconnected network of the physical and industrial world. This is how it starts. But the end goal, invariably, is not just to sense, but to make sense of, to understand, to predict, to control. This is a superhuman task when faced with a sea of machine chatter. Machine nervous systems require machine minds.

Luckily, we can now build those. The last few years have seen a cascade of Machine Intelligence victories, reaching milestone after milestone: vision, translation, medical diagnosis. The list of tasks where machines now routinely outperform humans is growing at an unprecedented rate. All things considered, we don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the first half of the 21st century will be remembered for the convergence of two of the most disruptive technological waves in human history: the IoE, and Machine Intelligence. As machines become able to comprehend sensory input of various types and impossibly high dimensions, plugging them into a vast nervous system will mark a turning point in technological history. Machine Intelligence is the value driver that can turn continual streams of data into actionable insights.

A new paradigm is needed to address the challenges and opportunities of this new era of increasing data velocity and variety. We need machine intelligence designed to deal with data in motion. Data in motion will dominate the sea of data generated by the IoE. And the ability to efficiently process, analyze and produce actionable insights from streaming data in ways that can be consumed efficiently by humans will be paramount to bringing the vision to fruition. Real-life processes change over time and designing systems with adaptability and scalability as core principles is paramount. Business intelligence can yield a lot of insights, but we truly need to be able to deploy at scale the full arsenal of machine learning capability in order to leverage the wealth of structured and unstructured data generated by the IoE.

Mentat Innovations feels privileged to be able to collaborate with Cisco to deliver the vision of a connected, intelligent IoE to the world. We can now finally imagine a shift from diagnostics to prognostics in manufacturing plants, smart electricity grids and intelligent retail solutions. We can imagine a connected healthcare system offering early warnings for life-threatening conditions without additional burden on overworked doctors. Use case by use case, across all verticals, a bigger picture is emerging, of a new economy where ambient machine intelligence empowers humanity to build a better future. This starts now.

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  1. @Kinnon thank you for your thought-provoking comment. Indeed the question “can AI be controlled?” is a much better question to ask than “can AI agents become conscious?”. Perhaps not quite to the point of being “sentient”, machines might very well develop “minds of their own”, in the sense of autonomously pursuing their own self-interest beyond our direct control. It is also instructive to keep in mind that even relatively simple animals can be incredibly resourceful and display complex adaptive behaviour driven by learning and evolutionary mechanisms, without being “conscious”.

  2. A far more perceptive article than most on the subject. The author clearly sensing the wider implications of Internet evolution.

    For, By relinquishing our usual parochial approach to this issue in favor of the overall evolutionary “big picture” provided by many fields of science. the emergence of a new predominant cognitive entity (from the Internet, rather than individual machines) is seen to be not only feasible but inevitable.

    The separate issue of whether it well be malignant, neutral or benign towards we snoutless apes is less certain, and this particular aspect I have explored elsewhere.

    Stephen Hawking, for instance, is reported to have recently remarked “Whereas the short-term impact of AI depends on who controls it, the long-term impact depends on whether it can be controlled at all,”

    This statement reflects the narrow-minded approach that is so common-place among those who make public comment on this issue. In reality, as much as it may offend our human conceits, the march of technology and its latest spearhead, the Internet is, and always has been, an autonomous process over which we have very little real control.

    Seemingly unrelated disciplines such as geology, biology and “big history” actually have much to tell us about the machinery of nature (of which technology is necessarily a part) and the kind of outcome that is to be expected from the evolution of the Internet.

    This much broader “systems analysis” approach, freed from the anthropocentric notions usually promoted by the cult of the “Singularity”, provides a more objective vision that is consistent with the pattern of autonomous evolution of technology that is so evident today.

    Very real evidence indicates the rather imminent implementation of the next, (non-biological) phase of the on-going evolutionary “life” process from what we at present call the Internet. It is effectively evolving by a process of self-assembly.

    The “Internet of Things” is proceeding apace and pervading all aspects of our lives. We are increasingly, in a sense, “enslaved” by our PCs, mobile phones, their apps and many other trappings of the increasingly cloudy net.

    We are already largely dependent upon it for our commerce and industry and there is no turning back. What we perceive as a tool is well on its way to becoming an agent.

    There are at present an estimated 2 Billion Internet users. There are an estimated 13 Billion neurons in the human brain. On this basis for approximation the Internet is even now only one order of magnitude below the human brain and its growth is exponential.

    That is a simplification, of course. For example: Not all users have their own computer. So perhaps we could reduce that, say, tenfold. The number of switching units, transistors, if you wish, contained by all the computers connecting to the Internet and which are more analogous to individual neurons is many orders of magnitude greater than 2 Billion. Then again, this is compensated for to some extent by the fact that neurons do not appear to be binary switching devices but instead can adopt multiple states.

    Without even crunching the numbers, we see that we must take seriously the possibility that even the present Internet may well be comparable to a human brain in processing power.

    And, of course, the degree of interconnection and cross-linking of networks within networks is also growing rapidly.
    The emergence of a new and predominant cognitive entity that is a logical consequence of the evolutionary continuum that can be traced back at least as far as the formation of the chemical elements in stars.

    This is the main theme of my latest book “The Intricacy Generator: Pushing Chemistry and Geometry Uphill” which is now available as a 336 page illustrated paperback from Amazon, etc .