As a revolution in information technology unfolds at an extraordinary speed, science fiction appears to be becoming science fact. Within just a couple of short decades, we have gone from the PC to the internet and mobile computing, to cloud computing, to today where we stand on the brink of a new, possibly even more radical stage in this process, that of smart systems. Some call it artificial intelligence, others call it cognitive computing, but the age of smart systems is becoming a reality as ever more products and services that we use every day - from search-engine advertising applications to facial recognition on social media sites to “smart” cars, phones and electric grids - are coming to demonstrate aspects of "smartness".
These smart systems incorporate functions of sensing, actuation, and control in order to describe and analyze a situation and make decisions based on the available data in a predictive or adaptive manner, thereby performing smart actions. In most cases, the “smartness” of the system can be attributed to autonomous operation based on closed loop control, machine learning and networking capabilities. These smart systems will sit at the intersection of humans and our technology infrastructure as they perform basic control operations for our technology infrastructure and interact with people so as to understand their needs and perform required actions.
The extraordinary capacity of this new stage in the development of information technology is in the convergence of cognitive computing, advanced analytics, cloud platforms and the Internet of Things. In every decade we have approximately ten times as many connected devices as we did in the past decade and this will likely continue for the foreseeable future. Everything that used to be dumb and disconnected is becoming smart and connected, as devices and technologies become connected into cloud platforms with advanced analytics running on them; this next generation of IoT smart platforms will be vast complex systems of systems.
The opportunities of this ongoing revolution in information are immense, but so too are the perils. Driven by large tech companies and investments in startups, smart systems - under the name of AI - are often presented as the current IT corporate solution to everything from healthcare to agriculture and transport, while the techno-dystopian worlds presented by Hollywood sci-fi movies are joked about. But the picture is not black and white, smart systems represent an expected evolution to our technology landscape one that is in many ways required. However, for this current stage in our technology development to be sustainable this expansion in technological means will require a concomitant expansion in human ends and it is yet to be defined whether such a counterbalancing force can or will emerge.