The Impact of Smart Machines on the Workforce

Ever since the industrial revolution, there are those among the working class who have held a fear of machines, and their potential to take away the jobs of humans. With the advent of the Internet of Things, connected smart machines have advanced to a stage where similar fears are resurfacing and some of them may be valid. Many are asking themselves, could a machine do their job? Perhaps the question that is much more appropriate, is whether machines will be taking jobs, in the near future?

What Do Industry Insiders Think About Smart Machines and Their Potential?

Smart machines that are connected to IoT infrastructure are becoming more common in every industry. Whether we look at automated checkouts at supermarkets, self-serve check-in machines at airports and train stations, or even ATM machines, we are seeing examples of how smart machines have, at least in some part, taken over functions previously performed by human workers. Does this mean that people would naturally be accepting of an automated, machine driven future? It’s possible, but not necessarily the case.

Gartner Research surveyed influential CEO’s in 2013, asking whether they considered that machines would be capable of taking over millions of jobs within the next 15 years. Surprisingly, 60% of these CEO’s said no, and referred to the situation as a ‘futurist fantasy’. (http://www.gartner.com/newsroom/id/2605015)

Two years later, and we’re seeing more acceptance for the role that smart machines will play. The researchers at Gartner believe that machines will have a widespread and profound impact on the market, even as early as 2020. Gartner even predicts that due to the rising intelligence of machines, job losses will be present within highly skilled industries.

IBM’s Watson, an advanced artificial intelligence machine, is already working with doctors at UT MD Anderson, helping to provide treatment plans for Leukemia patients. The computer program can diagnose therapies based on genetic footprints, and it can do so in minutes, where it might take doctors weeks to devise similar treatment plans. Of course there is still room for error, but the technology is rapidly advancing, and has left some in the medical field, stunned. (http://www.businessinsider.com/r-ibms-watson-to-guide-cancer-therapies-at-14-centers-2015-5http://www.businessinsider.com/how-ibm-watson-is-transforming-healthcare-2015-7)

Impacts of a Machine Driven Future

It looks increasingly likely that smart machines and computer algorithms will disrupt traditional job markets in the near future. What does this mean for employers and for those in employment?

Gartner suggests that CIO’s, professionals, and executive stakeholders must begin to investigate smart machines today, for a number of reasons.

The adoption of smart machines and technologies will be key to competitiveness, by driving down costs and increasing efficiency.

Decision makers will need to investigate the impact on human resource. Likewise, professionals may need to diversify or seek other opportunities as they are forced to compete in machine driven industries.

The loss of human jobs will lead to social issues, union issues, and possible political fallout.

(http://www.zdnet.com/article/smart-machines-will-they-take-your-job/)

Are Smart Machines a Negative or Positive Trend?

While it is easy to view the loss of skilled and labor intensive jobs as a negative, there are also benefits to a future that is largely driven by a computerized and robotic workforce. Product prices may fall as companies are able to produce more efficiently, at lower cost. New jobs will also be created. Programmers and engineers will be in high demand, to design and maintain smart machines and infrastructure.

It is yet to be seen whether the analyst’s predictions will become reality. The evidence however, suggests that industries will need to adapt to smart machines and technology, even if it is on a small scale. Analyzing the risks and benefits should be a key strategy for any business that wants to be prepared for a future where machine procurement and implementation might be just as, or more important than talent recruitment is today.

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Wearables – Continuous Growth in the Internet of Things

 

The Internet of Things encompasses a wide range of connected services, technologies, and hardware devices. For consumers, it is the growing number of portable and wearable devices that will be their main interface with IOT. The wearable device market is rapidly evolving, especially when it comes to smart watches and fitness monitoring devices.

As opportunities grow, the wearables dominating the market are also changing. What does this mean for those involved in the development, marketing, and sales of these IOT connected devices?ni36 NewIndustry - internet of things IoT - 16zu9 g3735

How Big is the Wearable Market in 2015?

International Data Corporation (IDC) has predicted that wearable device shipments in 2015 will rise to 173% of the total sales achieved in the previous financial year. This translates to over 72 million devices, including smartwatches and health trackers. This growth has been largely driven by high profile releases such as the Apple Watch in April of 2015, and also by widely publicized financial opportunities, Fitbit’s recent IPO being a prime example.

With the potential to move over 72 million units across the market, it is no surprise that leading technology companies like LG, Samsung, Sony, Microsoft, Apple, and Motorola are starting to increase their focus on wearable technology.

Future growth will be an incentive for further investment. IDC figures suggest that by 2019, global sales of wearables could exceed 150 million units.

Do these figures mean success for all involved in the wearable market? Not entirely.

Challenges for Businesses to Adapt

Although the overall market has grown, recent trends show that wearable fitness devices are losing out to increased smartwatch sales. Gartner’s latest research suggests that the dip could largely be associated with the increasing crossover in functionality between fitness devices and the latest smartwatches. 50 percent of those seeking a fitness wearable will end up choosing a smartwatch instead.

Fitness devices collect information relating to distance covered, physical location, and even heartrate. Smartwatches can now do most of the same. Combining a Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch with a phone like the Galaxy Note 4 or Galaxy S6 would provide users with GPS tracking, information on calories burnt, heart rate monitoring, and even blood oxygen levels. The technology is advancing year on year.

Because of this, companies like Fitbit and Nike, which are focused on fitness tracking, will need to lower prices to compete with integrated smartwatches. With screen and technology prices expected to drop in 2016, Gartner predicts that the fitness wearable market will be able to bounce back. By 2016 there could be as many as 19 wristband type devices for every 24 smartwatches sold.

Who are the Key Players in Wearables?

Fitbit, Jawbone, and Nike make up 97% of the wearable fitness device market. In smartwatch territory, it is Samsung and Apple that lead the market.

Fortune performed a survey of industry observers and found that the average prediction was for Apple to move 22.47 million smartwatches in 2015. Current estimates (June 2015) place Apple Watch sales at 2.79 million for the two months that it has been available. Compare this to Android Wear devices (Sony, Samsung, LG etc.) which have sold less than 800k since December, and it is clear that the allure of the Apple brand is as strong, if not stronger than ever.

Apple was relatively late to market, but they innovated with the digital crown (providing a more natural and familiar interface), haptic feedback to alert users of notifications, and a pressure sensitive touch display. It is rumored that Apple’s next iteration will include a high definition camera, which would be a first for wearable devices.

Whatever new innovations companies bring to market, they will be heavily reliant on technology from Qualcomm and Intel. Intel is already working in partnership with Google and Tag Heuer to develop the world’s first smartwatch/Swiss mechanical hybrid. Investors and anyone interested in the luxury product market will be eager to see this partnership develop.

Where is the Money in Wearables?

Even with staggering sales numbers, wearables are not in themselves a key revenue stream. Instead, it is the associated value that provides the biggest benefit to manufacturers.

Smartwatches, in particular, are seen as accessories. They are paired to smartphones and in turn can help to drive sales. They are also showpiece items. Even if Samsung, Apple, Sony etc. only manage to sell wearable technology to 10% of their smartphone customers (a speculative number), they will generate brand marketability, and logically would experience knock-on sales.

When it comes to companies like Nike, Fitbit, and Jawbone, the profit can come from connected services. Examples include subscription based exercise plans, analytics software, and in the case of Nike, a wearable can lead to increased apparel sales.

As with all IOT technology, the wearable device is only one part of the experience, and therefore only one part of the business model. It is the way in which data is collected, analyzed, and presented that provides the true value of any smart device. Smartwatches already have an advantage because they are highly integrated into their respective smartphone operating systems. Wearable fitness device companies have the opportunity to provide fitness tracking as a service, and must find new ways to monetize the service to generate direct revenue on top of initial hardware sales.

What does the Future Hold For Wearable Technology?

Over a billion smartphones were sold around the world in 2014. Global wearable sales make up less than 10% of that number. The challenge for manufacturers is to develop wearables that easily integrate with daily life, and these products should also be something that consumers want to use on a daily basis.

While wearables are high in consumer mindshare, they are relatively low in actual penetration. Smartwatches are now able to integrate a fitness device with a smart device in a way that is both compelling and practical, but is it enough? Those in the industry will need the best ideas, the best strategies, and the best talent to ensure that in-demand products are developed in line with business goals, and that they result in strong financial growth.

The Latest in Wearable Tech News

http://www.bna.com/wearable-tech-tool-b17179927671/ – Wearable Tech to Monitor Productivity

http://www.afr.com/technology/fitbit-shows-pull-of-wearable-tech-with-us732-million-ipo-20150618-ghrak1 – Fitbit’s IPO

http://www.intelligent-aerospace.com/articles/2015/06/accenture-and-airbus-deliver-wearable-technology-proof-of-concept-for-improving-airplane-cabin-assembly.html – Wearable Technology in Manufacturing

Amazon Echo: A Prime Example of IoT in the Home

Amazon is a company that has gone from being an innovative online book retailer, to one of the largest ecommerce retailers in the world, and is now the largest cloud computing provider and a major player in IoT.In addition to their core ecommerce website, Amazon has a line of internet connected ebook readers, personal tablets, a smartphone, a smart TV device, and now their latest, an intellig

Amazon Echo

Amazon Echo

ent personal assistant for the home.

Their new product is the Echo. It’s a small, relatively discreet IoT connected speaker that works in much the same way as Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Google’s Now services. Are there enough compelling features with the Echo to make it a breakthrough device in IoT mass adoption? More importantly, are there risks with having an always on, always listening, IoT device in the home?

Why Amazon Echo is Good for IoT

Although IoT devices around the world have now exceeded 5 billion, there are still billions of consumers that haven’t seen the value, or even recognized the potential of a more connected home. The consumer market is still in the early adopter stage, which means two things;

  • The products going to market have the responsibility of championing the argument for IoT.
  • These products should address concerns and reservations that people have in regards to a connected home.

While there are numerous devices available, such as wirelessly connected garden sprinklers, smart smoke alarms, smart power switches, and even IoT lighting systems, there’s nothing quite like Echo on the market.

Echo is at heart, a voice controlled personal assistant. It has much in common with the aforementioned Siri, Cortana, and Google Now. The benefit of an Echo, is that you don’t need to talk to your smartphone to use it, and it’s completely hands free. It is also always on.

The Echo will allow users to,

  • Receive daily news reports in natural language, including audio clips from leading media companies.
  • Ask for the weather.
  • Ask for recipes, information on people, places, and things, and get help for all kinds of research using results from Amazon and Wikipedia.
  • Set appointments, alarms, memos, and input text into compatible smartphone apps on iOS or Android.
  • Listen to music through internet streaming services.
  • Control other IoT devices in the home, such as Philips Hue lighting.
  • Order products from Amazon.com

From the eyes of the consumer, it is a compelling device, but there are reasons why the Echo is potentially beneficial to the entire consumer IoT market. Whereas other personal assistants are tied to smartphones, the Echo can operate independently. This allows users voice control over devices in their homes, and all they need to do is speak. The echo is always listening for the trigger phrase ‘Alexa’. So there’s no cumbersome opening of apps or removing a phone from a pocket etc. The fact that it easily integrates with other IoT devices will make it even more compelling, and could lead to complementary sales of other products such as smart lights, fans, and smart TV peripherals.

Should Users be Cautious of a Cloud Based Recording Device in their Home?

For all the positive press that has surrounded the launch of the Amazon Echo, there has been almost as much concern raised. Although users aren’t always completely aware of their privacy (or lack of) when it comes to the cloud, a number of leading tech publications have published articles which at least mention the downsides of having an always on recording device in the home. ZDNet and The Inquisitor, are just two of the leading tech coverage sites that raised security concerns along with their standard feature pieces.

As IoT technology becomes more prevalent, security is becoming a hot topic. Veracode and HP are two companies that have studied security on popular home devices. HP found that 70% of the top home IoT devices had an average of 25 security holes. These ranged from unsecured data transfer, to outdated remote access methods.

Considering that the Echo is constantly listening, it has the potential to store any audio it hears, on the cloud. This could be used for something mildly intrusive, like building an advertising profile for a user’s Amazon account, but in the wrong hands the uses could be more sinister. Imagine that criminals were able to illegally obtain data and perform identity theft, target individual houses for robberies, or even stalk individuals who are using the Echo. Consider all of the private things that are said in the average home, and it becomes obvious how dangerous that information could be in the wrong hands.

What are the Main Security Concerns Relating to the Amazon Echo?

  • Although it is not always listening in the sense that it is recording, it always has the potential to listen. It requires a keyword to interact with it, but it is always listening for that key word. Security compromises, or even future malware could enable the Echo to listen and mine data continuously.
  • Users are not informed how long it takes the Echo to stop recording, after interacting with it. Amazon has so far not commented on this.
  • At this stage, Amazon has not commented on the type of information that is retained, how long it is retained for, how it is used, and where it is stored. This has obvious security implications. Logically it would be stored in the Amazon cloud. Is that data anonymized, is it encrypted during transfer, and who has access to that data? (http://www.inquisitr.com/1593742/amazon-echo-interests-many-raises-privacy-concerns-for-many-more/)

While it is obvious that the Amazon Echo is an exciting piece of technology that makes it easier for consumers to get connected to IoT, there are still concerns when it comes to security and privacy.

The aim for businesses invested in IoT, should be transparency. Amazon can say that their system is secure and that user privacy is taken seriously, but without details and facts, this is hard to quantify or put into context.

This is one particular product that should be watched by observers and industry insiders alike, because it could well have implications for future releases from other companies. Most interesting will be how the Echo performs commercially, and how it holds up when it comes to security and user privacy in the cloud.

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