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COVID-19 shows it's time for the Intelligence of Things

19 future thinking provocations: 3 ex 19

Perhaps, like me, you have been watching the news and despairing at how we as humans make so many bad and inconsistent decisions. From not preparing adequately for a predicted pandemic, to then silencing those who raised the alarm about COVID-19, to downplaying its severity, to encouraging herd immunity, to enforcing strict lockdown, governments are flip-flopping from one approach to another. Individuals too are showing a whole variety and inconsistency of decision making, from following strict social distancing, to charging into the pub at the first opportunity. Inconsistent decisions are justified by reference to our own personal narratives. Human decision making is riddled with behavioural biases developed as a response to hunter gathering berries while being chased by sabre-toothed tigers. It's unsuited to the modern complex global society in which COVID thrives. There must be a better way! Step forward the Intelligence of Things.

You may well be aware of the Internet of Things, the embedding of sensors in objects that are able to communicate data to other objects. Consider smartwatches that track your heart health and if necessary communicate with health services; or, bridge monitoring systems that measure infrastructural integrity and report issues to engineers. Add Artificial Intelligence capabilities, such as machine and deep learning, and the connectivity of 5G, and objects can begin to get increasingly smart, predicting and improving decision making. Now you will know if you have a potential heart issue before it becomes serious or if the bridge needs preventative maintenance before it falls down. Such good sense could be termed ‘artificial intelligence’, but it sounds to me like good old ‘intelligence’. We should talk about the Intelligence of Things, rather than the Internet of Things.

You might quite rightly point to examples of technology reinforcing human prejudices or historical issues. But let's not forget that these issues usually originated in human biases. The Intelligence of Things at the moment is rather an adolescent intelligence, it can be uncommunicative, moody and grunting. It's the equivalent to a teenage brain's prefrontal cortex not yet being fully developed. But in the near future, Things' intelligence can and will mature and be able to make a lot more informed, unbiased and consistent decisions.

In the longer term future that could lead to some intriguing consequences, as shown in the comic scenarios in my future fiction novel, Blinky's Law. Although the book is tongue-in-cheek, it shows how a future could be when intelligent things optimise the world around us and how it is the human element that can mess it up.

For the moment, let Things be Things and let's augment our own intelligence through their data gathering capabilities. And maybe, when responding to crises like COVID-19, the Intelligence of Things will help us avoid the behaviourally biased, politically motivated, echo-chambered, hunter-gather intelligence of humans. It can also help our companies and ourselves do the same.

If you would like to discuss the application of the Intelligence of Things in your business, meet companies developing solutions and/or talk about the future and how to prepare for it, contact:

Martin Talks

Founder of Matomico and author of Blinky's Law