The Internet of Things: Generating Data and Changing the World

The Internet of Things (IoT) REALLY IS about “things” and not people. “If we want to talk about the IoT,” Timothy Chou (@timothychou), a lecturer at Stanford University, told participants at a fall 2016 IoT Emerge conference, “we have to recognize that things are not people.”[1] That statement might not sound profound; but, Chou insisted the implications of that statement are significant. To make his point, Chou listed five characteristics of things that differentiates them from people:

  1. There are way more things than people. At latest predictions about the IoT, there will be 100 times more connected things than the global population.
  2. Things can be where people cannot — at the bottom of a mineshaft, the middle of the Gobi Desert, even in your stomach.
  3. Things have a lot more things to say than people. A wind turbine, for example, has 500 sensors on it. ‘It has way more to say about air pressure, barometric pressure, and other conditions than any human would ever have to say,’ explained Chou.
  4. Things can say it more frequently — the data rates coming off of these new things are much faster than any of us can type.
  5. Things can be programmed. People cannot.

Karen Field (@karenfield) reports Chou insisted “our frame of reference needs to change from thinking that the only way that we could communicate with a machine was through a keyboard.”[2] He stated, “Merely taking the stuff that we are currently doing is trivial. Most machines today are pretty dumb. I’ve looked at a lot of them and not many have much computational power.” So what does the future hold? According to Field, Chou “sees a whole new shift of technology underneath, including the use of some sort of advanced machine learning and borrowing from the world of artificial intelligence.”

The Internet of Things and Cognitive Computing

Although the Internet of Things is expected to change the business landscape forever, Chou predicts “things” will get smarter before the IoT connects them. “It’s going to be the people building the machines that will be leading the charge,” predicted Chou. “As they start to make their machines smarter, it will be an obvious path to connect them.” Chou is not alone in his belief that cognitive technologies will enhance the performance of the IoT. Ed Burns (@EdBurnsTT) writes, “Cognitive computing systems [are] a natural fit for IoT devices. … The internet of things is more than just a data source for analytics. Powered by cognitive computing platforms, it can turn devices into conversant tools.”[3] He adds:

iot-07“Analyst firm Gartner forecast 6.4 billion connected devices will be used worldwide in 2016, jumping to 20.8 billion by 2020. But many of those devices will be relatively dumb, including things like fitness trackers, connected speakers and cameras. The real value from internet of things (IoT) devices could come from backing up a data connection with cognitive computing systems. This turns a connected device from something that strictly generates data into something much more interactive.”

K.R. Sanjiv, CTO at Wipro, explains, “The necessity for cognitive computing in the Internet of Things (IoT) arises from the importance of data in modern business. In the smart IoT venues of the future, everyone from startups to enterprises to homeowners will use data to make decisions using facts rather than instincts. Cognitive computing uses data and responds to changes within it to make better decisions on the basis of specific learning from past experiences, compared with a rule-based decision system. How we define that data is changing, though. Soon, data itself will require this level of computing to extract, making this new method even more valuable to the development of the IoT.”[4] He adds, “Cognitive computing’s ability to forecast more accurately means businesses must become more familiar with anticipatory and predictive systems.”

The Internet of Things and the End of Big Data

The reason I predict the IoT will bring an end to Big Data is because the term “big data” will be inadequate to describe the massive amounts of data generated by billions of connected devices. Calling that amount of data “big” will sound both quaint and antiquated. Having said that, I haven’t seen a better term proposed. So the term “Big Data” may be with us for a few years before the “big” is dropped and we simply start talking about data. Deloitte Consulting’s Andy Daecher and Robert Schmid, write, “Like a wildfire racing across a dry prairie, the Internet of Things is expanding rapidly and relentlessly. Vehicles, machine tools, streetlights, wearables, wind turbines, and a seemingly infinite number of other devices are being embedded with software, sensors, and connectivity at breakneck speed.”[5] Clearly, it will be beyond the scope of human capability to integrate and analyze data being generated from “a seemingly infinite number” of devices; especially if that data needs to be analyzed in real- or near-real-time. Daecher and Schmid elaborate:

“As IoT grows, so do the volumes of data it generates. Globally, the data created by IoT devices in 2019 will be 269 times greater than the data being transmitted to data centers from end-user devices and 49 times higher than total data center traffic. Even as businesses, government agencies, and other pioneering organizations take initial steps to implement IoT’s component parts — sensors, devices, software, connectivity — they run the risk of being overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the digital data generated by connected devices.”

Despite the challenges of dealing with oceans of data, it’s the data that gives the IoT so much potential.

Benefits of the Internet of Things

Daecher and Schmid explain:

“The value that IoT brings lies in the information it creates. It has powerful potential for boosting analytics efforts. Strategically deployed, analytics can help organizations translate IoT’s digital data into meaningful insights that can be used to develop new products, offerings, and business models. IoT can provide a line of sight into the world outside company walls, and help strategists and decision-makers understand their customers, products, and markets more clearly. And IoT can drive so much more — including opportunities to integrate and automate business processes in ways never before possible.”

Brian Buntz (@brian_buntz), Content Director at IoT Institute, observes that trying adequately to describe the benefits that should accrue once the IoT matures is difficult because “the field is gargantuan, including everything from drones to connected jet engines.”[6] Nevertheless, he put together “some of the most powerful IoT use cases” to underscore the point that the IoT is going to alter the business landscape dramatically and change the world. Those use cases include:

  • IoT-based pest control
  • Optimizing the power grid
  • Imbuing jet engines with artificial intelligence
  • Growing better grapes for better vino
  • Saving the bees
  • Making trash collection more efficient
  • Thwarting illegal fishing
  • Doing away with dangerous police chases
  • Using drones to help save the rainforest
  • Redefining field-based intel for the oil and gas industry
  • Using sensors to make driving safer

Buntz’ list makes clear the notion that IoT use cases are only limited by the imagination.


Sanjiv concludes, “As cognitive computing and the IoT grow together, businesses big and small will benefit from the autonomous capabilities of the new technologies.” He explains, “The real benefits in the world of millions of devices and sensors connected in an IoT world comes from having a learning engine closer to each sensor, displacing any existing rules. This way, decision-making becomes individual and specific to the sensor or node and purely based on its own experience. … And because all those devices and sensors are interconnected, their exchange of information and collective learning can offset the significant data and the time required for learning while also preparing for the dynamic needs of the solution.” In the past, we have taught our machines what they need to do. In the future — thanks to the IoT — our machines will teach us what we need to do.

[1] Karen Field, “It’s Not the Internet of People Anymore,” IndustryWeek, 4 November 2016.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ed Burns, “Cognitive computing systems a natural fit for IoT devices,” TechTarget, 3 November 2016.
[4] K.R. Sanjiv, “How cognitive computing is changing IoT,” Readwrite, 25 July 2016.
[5] Andy Daecher and Robert Schmid, “Internet of Things: From Sensing to Doing,” The Wall Street Journal, 11 May 2016.
[6] Brian Buntz, “11 Innovative IoT Use Cases,” IndustryWeek, 9 December 2016.

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