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The future of IoT and machine learning – what role will humans play?

January 30, 2018

Despite having been around for over two decades, machine learning and its integration into business models is yet to become commonplace. Jari Salminen, Managing Director of Cumulocity, has witnessed the unfolding of machine learning and noted the progress made in its adoption into a wide range of industries over recent years. He says that rather than spend time in building grand strategies then assume that value can immediately be realized, companies should take pragmatic steps to connect their assets and start collecting data.

“What we are seeing today is that there typically exists a bit of a delay when companies start connecting assets and collecting information to be able to rely on machine learning algorithms and their accuracy,” says Salminen. “The training of these algorithms requires large amounts of data and thus time. It takes time for any individual company to move through the cycle of starting with very basic use cases and moving onto more complex algorithms and dependencies, and eventually introducing machine learning.”

At Cumulocity, Salminen deals with several manufacturing and industrial companies. He recognizes companies that require warehouses – or those whose supply chains do – currently expect sophisticated IoT solutions from a production and manufacturing point of view.

Things are changing at such a pace that it is now very cost efficient even for smaller companies to deploy off-the-shelf IoT solutions for their supply chains.

Salminen encourages companies who have examined the cost of IoT solutions for manufacturing or supply chain management over recent years to do so again. “Things are changing at such a pace that it is now very cost efficient even for smaller companies to deploy off-the-shelf IoT solutions for their supply chains as the price of hardware, connectivity and software has dramatically reduced over the last 5 years,” he reasons.

Holding algorithms accountable

The accuracy and efficiency at which these solutions can be implemented will greatly depend on the algorithms triggering them. According to Salminen, the more automated these algorithms become, the greater influence they will have not only on supply chains, but beyond them as well.

“Today, most actions are still done by human users and there are several reasons why that is. For example, accountability – in the long-term, we will need to ask how this will change. Will decisions be made based solely on the algorithms that machine learning will make possible? Maybe. However, such questions and their answers go beyond technology itself, as they are concerned with making sure that somebody other than a computer takes responsibility for decisions. It’s a complex domain,” Salminen says.

So, how to legally and ethically approach decision-making when no human is involved in the process? Very similar questions are currently being asked in the automotive industry.

Closely tied to the accountability of machine-to-machine decision-making within IoT projects is the matter that is security. In general, issues surrounding security are never too far away when connectivity, machines and material networks are concerned.

Multilevel security management

“The issue with security is that it exists on so many levels in IoT projects: from hardware – meaning devices, machines and assets – and connectivity, whether that entails using mobile connections or new narrowband IoT solutions, to the backend, meaning the cloud or servers. On top of all that you might have special applications for company users, partners or even consumers. Security needs to be controlled and monitored at all these levels.”

“Often, security breaches take place when more than one area has been overlooked. A most common area attracting hackers and attacks is wherever any connected device exposes ports reachable from the internet. These are being scanned by hackers,” Salminen continues. He reminds companies that if they are dealing with hardware, that they should keep their wide area network ports closed; from a connectivity perspective, they must make sure that everything is fully encrypted in transit.

“If you are providing cloud services on top of hardware and connectivity, make sure that your whole system is robust and secure. Ultimately, there is no single thing companies must consider when it comes to security, but rather, it is an area that must be owned end-to-end by someone in the project.”

Setting future standards

When asked how he sees the future of machine learning and IoT taking shape, Salminen is simultaneously restrained and excited. He sees industries as being past the initial hype. The implementation of more advanced and sophisticated use cases is now becoming a reality.

“The connectivity costs per device are decreasing, and thus enabling many new developments when it comes to industrial solutions. This is happening across widespread assets, meaning that for example, narrowband technologies are becoming more popular. However, what is still lacking from IoT and will need to be addressed in the next few years is standardization.”

While Salminen is adamant that a comprehensive philosophy regarding standardization must be adopted, he does not foresee the use of one single underlying standard that will apply across industries.

“My guess is that there won’t be an overarching standard that will include everything from devices to data structures. There will be so many different IoT use cases that it will be impossible to create something that would cover all of them,” he says. “We see lot of traction with MQTT (Message Queuing Telemetry Transport) as a messaging protocol due to the fact it doesn’t even try to standardize all parts of the IoT stack. For example, it does not deal with message payload format which is left to the developer to decide.”

On the other hand, Salminen believes that standards like Lightweight M2M by Open Mobile Alliance are not being picked up by market players because probably it doesn’t fit many use cases, among other reasons.

Nonetheless, he reminds those looking to initiate IoT projects to certainly consider available standards, but not to be limited by them. He also states that the key thing to ensure is that you are not locked into any standard, but to have flexibility in case your needs change in the future.

“If I were starting an IoT project, I would be looking at the most recent connectivity options, the role of standards, if such exist, and whether or not they are relevant to my business. However, I wouldn’t force any standards at the moment, as there are in fact very few that are relevant,” Salminen concludes.

 

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