Short Cuts 66

by Paul Stephens

Paul Stephens takes a sideways look at the world of IT.

HardCopy Issue: 66 | Published: June 1, 2015

Things – a Good Thing?

Here at Short Cuts we like to ponder the great philosophical questions, and this time we’ve been considering a topical one – is the Internet of Things a good thing?

The answer, it seems, is “possibly, although possibly not.” In theory it’s a great idea to build a world full of connected devices that warn your car of looming traffic jams and email your doctor if your blood pressure gets a bit high. The fear, however, is that most IoT technology won’t end up being used for things like that, but instead for relentless marketing of the kind that won’t let you walk down a street without the lamp posts pointing out nine sushi bars within Uber-distance, or enter a shop without video walls, to the glee of your friends, trying to steer you towards the department where you bought a hideous green cardigan for an aged relative three years ago.

In fact the scariest thing we’ve read in a while is Intel’s overview of its Context Sensing SDK, which paints a truly Orwellian picture of a world in which your mobile device not only knows where you are but can predict what you’ll do next, based on all the data about your past that’s been aggregated to the cloud to form your “Historical Context”. As the document puts it, “This information can be later analysed using a behavioural model to produce predictions based on the user’s history,” adding that “Once the information is in the cloud, you are enabled to watch and consume the Historical Context from any device.”

This is Intel, so of course the intentions are harmless, with the company envisaging nothing more serious than predicting that you’ll order Chinese food. However you don’t need to be George Orwell to see more sinister possibilities. Big Brother will not only be watching your Historical Context, but consuming it as well – and there’ll be no point in leaving your phone behind, because if you do then your watch, purse or car keys will keep tabs on you instead.

In that context it’s reassuring to see the big beasts of the IT jungle, including IBM, Oracle and, of course, Microsoft, queuing up to offer IoT platforms and services, since the latency involved in turning these software supertankers around to point in the direction of the latest Big Thing should mean that, for the next few years at least, your phone won’t have a clue whether your next behaviour is likely to be a feng shui workshop in Shoreditch or a tank driving weekend on Salisbury Plain.

That will change though, and one day you’ll wake up to find your phone completing your order at the Starbucks counter and telling you to sit down because there’s something you want to watch on the Discovery Channel. Even Orwell didn’t predict that.


IoT Essentials

Ever-keen to jump on a bandwagon – sorry, innovate industry trends – Short Cuts has decided to launch its own IoT platform – Interactive Dynamic Interface Of Things, or ‘idIoT’ for short. Running on the Short Cuts Enterprise Cloud (a shared Linux hosting account with unlimited disk space and 99.9 percent uptime), idIoT will reach the Things other IoT platforms don’t, namely the ones that really matter to you. Here are some highlights from the current Community Technology Preview:

idIoT Watch V2

An early version of the Short Cuts idIoT platform’s Sensor Analytics capability in action.

idIoT Proximity Services: notifies you when it senses that your boss is in proximity to your workstation, and will soon be able to observe that you’re busy posting a selfie of you and your pet Daschund to Pinterest instead of checking the outcome of that automatic code refactoring process. Best used with the idIoT ‘Instant Visual Studio’ screensaver, available to suite subscribers only.

idIoT Sensor Analytics: analyses streaming data from your car’s reversing camera to send you a warning when it senses that a parking attendant is about to clamp you for using the parent-and-toddler spaces at your local supermarket while actually on a solo mission to pick up some cans for the Match. Gives you time to adopt a worried expression before shouting “Has anyone seen a two year old in a West Ham shirt pushing a buggy?”

idIoT Historical Context Engine: senses where you are and feeds you interesting snippets about the place’s history, allowing you to impress your wife/husband/partner/social worker. Popular snippets include “Of course, this is the car park where Richard III was really buried”; “There’s an interesting story behind the axe-hole in that door” and “They didn’t allow that sort of thing when the Salvation Army ran this place.” Fully Bluetooth-enabled.

idIoT Prediction Hub: performs rule-based predictive analysis using best-in-class algorithms and real-time state vector and context monitoring. Capable of predicting that when you announce you’re off to the gym you are, in fact, going to end up at your local Slug and Lettuce, and that your watchstrap’s prediction that you’ll only stay for one is 99.9 percent likely to be wrong.
(That’s enough idIoT Services – Ed)

Challenger 2 Tank

Not a feng shui workshop in Shoreditch: early IoT behavioural analysis systems may be prone to incorrect predictions about users’ weekend plans.