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The Internet of Things and Social Machines

Web-enabled, connected devices which can linked to each other through a shared ‘language’ to form social machines

You may be familiar with the Internet of Things in the context of popular media stories such as “SmartHomes” – featuring fridges advising us to buy milk from the supermarket, voice-activated lighting, heating and locking systems – all through convenient smartphone apps.

The Internet of Things (IoT) can be much more than web-enabled, connected devices. When those devices are linked to each other through a shared ‘language’ and can talk together, they have the ability to become Social Machines.

A Social Machine is one in which the technology performs basic administrative tasks through the use of real-time machine-to-machine communication across standardised data sets (Shadbolt et al, 2013). The purpose is to “enrich life by creating more intelligent connections between devices and people” (Viswanathan, 2011). This allows more time for human creativity as the social machines conduct basic administrative tasks.

A combination of sensor devices networked to AI systems could provide huge benefits to:

  • city congestion (by altering traffic flows in real time, or by scheduling buses and trains in response to actual passenger demand);

  • water, gas and electricity supplies (by automatically targeting resources to where and when they are most needed);

  • waste collection (by scheduling pick-ups once bins are actually full and routing collection vehicles in the most efficient manner);

  • air quality (by monitoring pollution levels and restricting traffic to those areas if levels rise too high)

This easy-to-read comic book helps explain the IoT further.

If effective, smartHomes and smartCities, can become self-managing entities which improve the quality of our lives and provide us with more personal time.

What business applications of the Internet of Things can you find to share in the comments below?

You can find out more about practical applications of the Internet of Things from this Ted Talk (16 minutes). Professor Andy Stanford-Clark has the grand titles of Chief Technology Officer and Master Inventor at IBM UK. He is an enthusiastic early adopter of the Internet of Things, and has been designing and experimenting with energy saving devices for many years. In this talk Andy explains how his thinking grew from household applications, to community-based projects, to ambitions to connect the whole country via federated smart grids.

This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.

You can read more about Andy’s background and his remarkable achievements at the cutting edge of new technology here. You will meet Andy in step 1.13, where we interview him about his views on skills required for the future of work.

© University of Exeter
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