April 27, 2015

The myths of the Industrial Internet

Taneli Tikka

Head of Innovation Incubation, Data Driven Businesses, Tieto

Currently, there is rampant speculation about the Industrial Internet and the Internet of Things. While most conversations focus on their many benefits, such as increased efficiency, reduced costs or various new opportunities, there are also several potential threats that ought be discussed. But are these threats as worrisome as we may think?

If these terms are unfamiliar, please see my previous blog posts here and here.

1. True or false: The Industrial Internet creates huge security risks
Answer: False

Science-fiction is rife with plotlines outlining the technological collapse of humanity. Movies like The Terminator, Automata (the new Antonio Banderas movie) and Transcendence (Johnny Depp's latest film) show us how digital networks may threaten society's infrastructure. I don't believe that either the Industrial Internet or the Internet of Things could ever cause such dire situations, and the reason is very simple.

The Industrial Internet contains no fundamentally new types of technology; it is forged from the same technologies we've been using for years. As such, the Industrial Internet's security issues are relatively cut and dried. We've long ago developed the wherewithal to stay ahead of internet risk. Most of us know exactly what we are doing when we use the internet in our daily lives, and we understand the importance of keeping our information, finances and lives safe. Moreover, the people in charge of the truly dangerous networks, the computers running financial markets and even our smart cities, are even better versed in the importance of security. Accordingly, I consider the Industrial Internet to be low-risk.

However, there is a disconnect between the awareness of internet experts and internet novices. Some of the people running industrial systems are the same people that use one password for all of their accounts. It is possible that someone may use the same password for both a social media website and the system running sizeable production facility —but most people know better. As such, this awareness gap must be overcome to ensure the safety of society, but we shouldn't lose much sleep over the matter.

2. True or false: Robots will take our jobs
Answer: True and false

The harsh, cold reality is that many of today's jobs could be made obsolete by technology. Still, technology has always moved society forward, and so we must wonder which jobs will be lost. Naturally, we all first think of our own jobs.

Robots are best suited to jobs with high Routine Task Intensity such as ticket vending. If the routine task associated with a particular job is predictable enough, robots can (and perhaps should) outcompete humans at that job. The finance world is now brimming with various smart algorithm-based "Robo Advisor" services; Wealthfront, Betterment, Swissquote, Vaamo, Nutmeg and FutureAdvisor are all examples of services in which algorithms make investment recommendations and even provide financial advice to clients. This sort of computerization was restricted to sci-fi only a short time ago. It suggests that machines may replace us in all domains.

However, I still believe that there are many jobs we can't replace with machines; many jobs transcend calculated routines, even those that seem to lack nuance. Customers need interactions, cheering up and understanding. I don't believe AI will or can replace this type of work. Humans interact, negotiate and build trust. Humans can understand context and meaning. We are creative, and we use intuition and imagination. Services like physiotherapy are almost impossible to replicate with robotics; there's nothing routine about the unique conditions of each and every patient. Such clinical work requires both a human assessment of the medical situations and humane treatment to improve outcomes for those in need of care.

To summarize the work of a group of Harvard computer scientists, the goal is "to create systems that let humans combine what they are good at—asking the right questions and interpreting the results—with what machines are good at: computation, analysis, and statistics using large datasets." Together with machines, we will build a better world.

3. True or false: Artificial intelligence will take over the world
Answer: False

We are still in the early days of artificial intelligence. Even the most brilliant AI isn't as clever as one might think. Of course, it's still important to discuss the potential threat of AI to mankind. There is no harm in considering fail-safes and establishing guidelines. Some sci-fi storylines warn us of the looming threat of our technology developing a mind of its own and beginning to serve its own purposes instead of ours. But this is not how it will happen. Basic technological restrictions will prevent it. Servers cannot seize control of all machines; rather, machines connect to the cloud.

When pondering these potential threats, it's important to remember why the media generates hysteria; it sells newspapers and generates touch clicks. At the moment, I see needless fear from many people who do not fully understand artificial intelligence, people relying on the media for tech insights—the very same type of people who were terrified by the Y2K "Millennium Bug" issue. Once again, the best way to remain calm is to approach the situation with education in hand.

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