Technology is filled with buzzwords that come and go. However, three key ideas that have grown in stature and relevance over recent years are blockchain technology, artificial intelligence and the internet of things. These three emerging technologies represent different aspects of the data world, and 2018 may be the tipping point in their convergence. The result? Three different pieces of technology will start working together in a seamless ecosystem, and the result is a more connected, more efficient and more secure world.
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In order to see how these technologies might work together, it’s essential to understand their specifics. Let’s take a closer look.
Blockchain: Blockchains have been around for nearly a decade and first came to prominence with the rise of bitcoin. Blockchains are a database platform with several key market differentiations. First, they are decentralized, removing single authority over the data. Second, many are publicly vetted through a network of users. Third, data is permanent as each record is recorded in a block and linked to adjacent records, making them immutable and linear. For more information, see my book, Blockchain for Dummies.
AI: This term brings up many stereotypes from sci-fi, mostly involving the dystopian end of the world. However, AI is just as likely to bring about a better world as it is to end it. Current AI simply represented learning algorithms that can adjust and make decisions based on processing high volumes of data. An example of this is Apple’s Siri. Siri learns your schedule, habits and likes/dislikes by merely tracking data of individual decisions. When patterns are recognized, Siri can make decisions about recommendations and options. AI can be used in all sorts of applications, from B2B to B2C, and in the process, make things faster and easier for the end user. For more information, see Max Tegmark’s book, Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence.
IoT: The internet of things is already here thanks to a combination of Wi-Fi, data networks and Bluetooth connecting devices. The emerging smart home is an example of IoT, where the idea is that all of the “things” are connected to the internet: refrigerator, TV, thermostat and more. As more and more everyday devices go online, IoT becomes increasingly mainstream and part of daily life. For more information, see Bruce Sinclair’s book, IoT Inc.
How these technologies work together
All three of these technologies have been ramping up over the past decade. After years of hype and expectations, 2018 looks to be the year of convergence, and the ecosystem begins with the blockchain.
Blockchain technology is rebuilding the underpinnings of the internet. One of the fundamental issues that prevent the more widespread use of IoT and AI is security vulnerabilities inherent within the internet as it stands now. Blockchain technologies can help solve a lot of these issues by doing three things: They allow users to conduct commerce directly, both providing a payment mechanism and communication channel. Blockchain networks can also be used to create indexed records that are linear and permanent, allowing others to reference them globally without censorship. The third thing that blockchain technology allows its users to do is to act as their own certificate authority. Senator Elizabeth Warren stated following the Equifax hack that “people should own their own data;” individuals acting as their own certificate authority is how they could start controlling their own data.
Blockchain represents the glue that holds this ecosystem together because it is responsible for storing and guarding records. With transparency and permanence inherently part of its operational model, hacking becomes nearly impossible. This protects against the biggest threat — outside usurping of device and record control. Such threats have appeared in many forms over recent years, from the mass Mirai distributed denial-of-service attack driven by bots in 2016 to notable stories of children learning to hack into their smart toys. With IoT, every connected device is a vulnerable point of entry, and with AI making decisions for users, the risks have never been more significant. A scalable, secure and easily vetted platform that blockchains create is a level of security that even has governments exploring it for official uses.
Because while the current focus is on smart refrigerators and TVs, the stakes become infinitely higher when we look into the future. Smart medical devices may represent a new way of saving lives by being driven with AI capable of making on-the-fly life-saving decisions through biometric data. Yet, consider the power of that device should someone hack into it — such a threat creates a new form of terrorism. Similarly, self-driving cars are already common enough that states are making laws for them as technology companies like Google evolve their capabilities. The goal of these vehicles is to make transportation more efficient and safer by taking the human element out of the equation. However, hacking into their systems creates a danger for all drivers on the road. Considering that hackers have already been able to demonstrate that they can take over control of Tesla vehicles, the need to secure data powering smart vehicle AI is literally a matter of life and death.
Thus, the most significant leap forward in connectivity and AI will not come from what the technology is capable of, but instead its success or failure matters solely on the security and dependability of the data powering it. Without the ability to have maximum secured data, any impressive uses of AI or IoT devices ultimately become nothing more than a glorified tech demo if it can’t be trusted once released into the world and open to nefarious users. For the convergence of these incredible technologies to truly take place, they must be secure experiences. Because of that, 2018 marks the first time that these technologies can take advantage of the others’ capabilities, and together, they may form the foundation of an ecosystem that will change the way humanity lives, works and plays. This could lead to all sorts of changes, from the marriage of RFID and NFC chips and blockchain as new personal identification to cryptocurrencies being used to power transactions between AI and IoT devices. Change is coming, and if there was ever a time to make sure humanity gets it right, it would be now.
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