Big data analytics, machine learning and the Internet of Things (IoT) will not result in a cyber apocalypse, according to experts in the power and technology industries.
Representatives from firms including Schneider Electric, ABB, Osram and Philips downplayed concerns about the IoT and big data advances during a roundtable hosted by Voltimum and attended by V3.
Welcoming our machine overlords
When asked about the concerns raised by Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk about self-learning machines, Schneider Electric UK and Ireland president Tanuja Randery argued the technologies will create new job categories and professions.
"My gut says this is going to change the way we work, and in fact we have to find new ways to apply our resources. I don't agree that we'll see mass redundancies [or disasters]," she said.
"We know that artificial intelligence [AI] is here already, but I believe none of these things works without human interaction at some point.
"You can improve efficiencies etc, but you need people doing things. You will always need someone making the computer algorithms, someone checking the robots."
Musk has long warned of the dangers of connected self-learning machines. He famously likened advanced machine learning development to summoning demons during a talk at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology AeroAstro Centennial Symposium.
Musk is not alone in his belief. Microsoft founder Bill Gates and acclaimed academic and physicist Stephen Hawking have both expressed similar concerns.
The CEO of lighting firm Osram Innoventure, Timon Rupp, agreed with Randery's sentiment, saying machines will never be able to work creatively in the same way as humans.
"At the moment what we've created is a akin, I think, to a new born [baby]. It's just learned recognition. The step we're waiting for is going from recognition to prediction. Then we can make autonomous a useful feature," he said.
"The more intelligent things we make that can take away acts of production, where we can improve efficiency, the better.
"I think these things can take away basic mundane tasks, [but] they can never be creative. You will always need a human for this. So, if anything, the moves will change humans' place and types of work."
Voltimum CEO Wolfgang Schickbauer cited the impact of previous disruptive technologies on workforces as evidence that the IoT and machine-to-machine services will generate new prospects.
"This will create new jobs and opportunities, [but] there is a threat and people's job profiles will change. Maybe contractors and so forth won't be there tomorrow, but that doesn't mean there won't be different jobs. Creating value-added services doesn't destroy jobs, it makes new ones," he said.
Sorting out common standards and the back-end
The experts were generally optimistic, but warned that there are still several challenges hampering IoT adoption.
Randery highlighted the need for a common set of IoT standards across the industry as the biggest concern among businesses.
"With IoT we believe in having everything in a single pane of glass, so everything talks to each other," she explained.
"The question is how we do this and consolidate all these difference systems. [For us] the more open protocols we embrace the less standards we need to create.
"We need to find a way [as an industry] to embrace open protocols. That's what we do with our investments. The more we open up as an industry the fewer problems we'll have. We need to be working together."
Kai Garrels, head of standardisation and industry relations at automation technology specialist ABB, agreed with this proposition, arguing that the new standards must deal with three key questions.
"First is safety, so that what the machines are doing is safe and doesn't hurt people," he said.
"The next is security, [specifically] IT security. Here there are some standards in place for infrastructure projects. [But] for some newer applications we need new ones. [For example] you wouldn't apply power plant security standards to your home.
"The last thing is standards to make the connectivity easy so that people will do it."
The experts' comments come during a raging battle between various consortiums and groups about common IoT standards, of which there are currently 25.
Despite the challenges, Gerry O'Donnell, head of strategy and government affairs at Philips, said that the IoT, big data and machine-to-machine technologies will offer advantages to numerous industries once these challenges are overcome.
He highlighted healthcare as a key area that could benefit. "The most exciting use of IoT is in healthcare. Anyone who goes into or has been in a hospital has had lots of information taken about them, but it's not connected," he said.
"How good would it be if all of this was connected so that people could access it when needed for things like early diagnosis?
"How good would it be to have the information out there to create algorithms to see patients all the way through their recovery process and use [the data] to improve the health of the population with non-invasive practices?"
Philips is one of many companies to see the value of IoT in healthcare. Army HQ innovation and systems solutions architect Craig Collins said during an interview with V3 in April that wearables and IoT technologies could help wounded soldiers to recover.
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