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The Internet of Things: The Value of Shared Intelligence

There is a lot of interest and speculation going on currently about how the story of the 'Internet of Things' will unfold, and to what extent it will change the world we live in.

While a lot is being said and written about this interesting new concept in which things become internet-enabled and are connected to the net, most of the discussion about the subject seems to be focussed only on one aspect, which is about accessing and controlling things remotely from anywhere in the world using the internet.

This ability to manage things over the internet is interesting, however there is another important 'Internet of Things' idea that I feel is being largely ignored. It is about the value that is obtained from the shared intelligence of individual objects and the idea stems from the way that we currently use the internet.

For most of us the internet is useful because of its ability to provide us with information and knowledge about any topic that we are interested in. All of this knowledge that is available on the 'Internet of People' is created by people like you and me, by way of writing articles, blog posts, comments, reviews and the like.

Now, what if this concept was extended to the Internet of things. What if things started to share on a daily basis (or in real-time) the information that they gain through their sensors, to form a big repository of pooled knowledge. Will such a thing-driven database of information provide better insights, than the knowledge databases that we humans create?

To try and compare the two, let us take an example of a car review website.

Case 1: Internet of people - Car review site.

Here is what our regular car review websites do. They allow prospective buyers to get more information about all the latest cars selling in the market and also allow visitors to check out other people's opinions about each brand of car.

Case 2: Internet of Things - Car review site.

What if all the cars in the world were internet-enabled (or even just 10% of them). These cars, with each one assigned a unique ID, would be equipped with sensors that allow them to measure things like how much fuel has been filled, and how much distance the car has travelled. Such data could be transmitted by the car to a website on the internet at regular intervals of time. (once a day?).

So, we would have tens of thousands of cars of various brands such as Mercedes, Chevrolet, Jaguar, Ferrari, Toyota and others, transmitting daily information about themselves over the internet to a particular website.

The website in turn would smartly collect all the data it receives and store it neatly in relational databases doing real-time updates to the database. So when your car transmits its daily data about the distance it travelled that day and the fuel that it consumed, your car's performance metrics (mileage) can be updated in the database.

You as a car owner can log into the website and see a detailed and historic performance review of your car at any time, but the real value of this 'Internet of Things' exercise goes beyond that.

When thousands of cars share their daily data, the data aggregating website can easily calculate and compare the performance metrics of each brand of car. e.g. The site can show detailed graphs comparing mileage of each car brand to potential buyers.

While the above example lists only mileage as a factor, the cars can also transmit other key data over the internet such as their GPS location (so that the data can be filtered by country or city), and average driving speeds and anthing else that can be recorded using sensors, and which could provide useful insights.

Which data would be more reliable?

Would you prefer a regular 'Internet of People' car review website for gaining information about the car you are thinking of buying or would you prefer checking the statistics on an 'Internet of Things' car review website?

The regular website would allow you to read what some unknown person 'Jack' feels about a particular brand of car, and you could also read what another person 'Jill' thought about that same brand of car a few months ago. In comparison an Internet of things website would allow you access real-time data about each car that is running on the streets.

As a general rule, whatever you get to read on review sites is based on perceptions of a few people, and thus represents only a very small fraction of the total intelligence. For example, if a car company sells a thousand cars of a newly launched brand in a year, and one person posts a review about that car, then numerically speaking that person's opinion of that car brand accounts for only 1/1000 of the total intelligence.

In comparison, the graph available on the 'Internet of things' site would be displayed using real-time data obtained from each of those 1000 cars.

So, which one would you prefer? perception or facts?

In my opinion, both of them have their plus and minus points. In some cases human perception matters more than facts (which car looks more cool?), and in other cases facts give the better picture (e.g. mileage).

So the internet of people will likely continue to co-exist with the internet of things in the future for some time at least, and later the two will possibly merge with each other to form a hybrid model, where people add their valuable perceptions to the factual insights shared by things.

Another example:

Continuing with the example of internet-connected cars that is mentioned above, here is what more is possible. The cars could potentially transmit much more real-time information such as their GPS location, their speed and their travel direction.

The combined data from all cars in the city, would translate to real-time information about city traffic, which can be represented visually on a screen and can be used by people to avoid traffic jams and to reach their destinations faster, using the least congested routes.

One more example:

Here is another example of things sharing their intelligence over the internet. Consider what would happen if all the umbrella's in the world shared real-time data about whether they are open or closed, and whether they are wet or dry. You could log into a website which collates this data and get a real-time world map to see places where its raining.

On second thoughts, this may not provide a very accurate picture, and may not be cost-effective, so here is a modified idea of the same thing. Why not have a few rain-sensors installed on the roof-tops of some of the houses in villages, towns and cities. This would be cost-effective and give the same results.

Each of these sensors would transmit real-time data and the aggregated results can be viewed online, and can help the weathermen to make better weather forecasts. These sensors would act as the eyes and ears of the weathermen, and that is where the value of the 'Internet of Things' comes from.


The idea of 'things sharing their intelligence over the internet to form a bigger picture' is an interesting one, however not many people seem to be talking about its significance on the internet, hence I thought I should share my views on the subject, so that more people can think and contemplate about this aspect of the internet of things.

Thank you for reading, and if you feel this idea sounds interesting, please do share it with your friends, using the social sharing buttons below.