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Explaining Internet of Things to a Layman: Machines like a Child

By Vinay Solanki


Recently a few of my family members, some friends and colleagues asked me about Internet of Things (IOT) even though they had heard about smart cities from the media. I started explaining to them and realized midway that they were getting utterly confused. Questions like “what do you mean by ‘smart’ things and how are they ‘smart’?” “Are they smarter than me?” “Is it artificial intelligence?”, “What is Internet of Everything (IOE)?”, “What’s in it for me?” and so on were encountered. Here is my attempt to explain this in layman terms.

Machine communicates like a child

Let’s say your one year old suddenly starts crying. What do you do? You start checking physically visible symptoms that may have hurt him/her OR would make a guess that the child is hungry and try feeding him/her and if crying doesn’t stop then you may take him/her to the doctor. Since the child cannot clearly communicate what exactly is happening to him/her, you perform trial and error tactics (Of course, over a period of time you understand the reason behind crying better!).

What if the child can convey the reason why he/she is upset or why he/she is crying or why he/she is not sleeping at the age of half a year?  This child would be called a ‘smart’ child and that’s what a smart object or thing would mean.

Machines, things or objects around you cannot speak. But with help of sensors, some program and some processing of meaning attached to them, they can tell you what is happening with them. If a paper producing machines starts spinning low quality paper, it can give you some forewarning about what is wrong with it or what potentially could have gone wrong. If there can be a two way communication between you and the things around you, then just imagine how well you can manage the resources around you!

Machine can learn like a Child

‘Machines will learn just like a child’[1], says the CEO of IBM. I agree completely. I went on to explain that how a child gradually learns to crawl, walk, then run or how a child learns a language, the same will be performed by things around us. We are using washing machines for ages now; they come in various forms such as semi-automatic, fully automatic and manual.  How do we think it works behind the scenes? A type of intelligence built into it enables it to work automatically.

Taking it a step forward – consider that your washing machine is able to remember the type of clothes you wash most frequently, the quality of clothes and the amount of powder you use and based on this, starts telling you that you are probably using too much soap or even better, it indicates that this piece of clothing may lose its color. Similarly, your refrigerators, tubelights, fans, etc. can be made to work smarter and save time and money.

And finally, these two examples drew a better and a satisfying reaction from my audience!

Vinay Solanki is the Global Head for revenue assurance and fraud management for Airtel Money (a mobile money initiative).

(1) http://www.computerworld.com/article/2989222/high-performance-computing/machines-will-learn-just-like-a-child-says-ibm-ceo.html