Internet of Things (IoT), Blockchain and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are the buzz words that everyone seems to talk about. All three technologies are at peak of inflated expectations as per Gartner Hype Cycle for emerging technologies (Please refer to the chart on the right). The time to maturity is roughly the same for the three technologies though Blockchain may take a little longer.
Each of these technologies have immense potential and are rightly getting all the attention. However, if we take these technologies together, we are taking about an explosive multiplier effect. I can already see a potent trinity of IoT, Blockchain and AI taking shape in coming years.
IOT & BLOCKCHAIN
My earlier article on Business Models for IoT got several comments from the readers about security, trust and smart decisions. A few comments were also about the true differentiation of IoT from other enterprise-wide large IT implementations. I had written the the IoT business model article two years back when the Blockchain technology was still in infancy (to be honest, I did not have much idea about it then). Now, I can clearly see the benefits of using Blockchain technology along with IoT platform.
What is Blockchain? Blockchain is a digitized, decentralized ledger of all transactions. The transactions are replicated across multiple computers and linked to each other to make any tempering with records virtually impossible. This immutable way of managing records eliminate the need for any central entity managing the transactions. Blockchain should not be confused with the bitcoins. Blockchain is the platform while bitcoin is just one of the many applications that uses Blockchain platform just the way internet is to email. Click here quick tutorial on Blockchain.
BENEFITS OF USING BLOCKCHAIN PLATFORM WITH IOT
- Trust – Blockchain’s decentralized, open & cryptographic nature allows people to trust each other and transact peer to peer. As autonomous systems and devices interact with each other, the IoT transactions are exposed to potential security risk. Blockchain technology gives a simple, cost-effective, and permanent record of decisions made and communicated.
- Traceability– Data transactions take place between multiple networks owned and administered by multiple organizations. Blockchain can provide a permanent, immutable record so that custodianship can be tracked when data or physical goods, move between points in the value chain. Blockchain records are by their very nature transparent – activity can be tracked and analyzed by anyone authorized to connect to the network.
- Security – Security is a holy grail of IoT networks and is one of the biggest concern. Imagine a scenario where the hackers are able to attack the smart city network thereby not only bringing down all the interconnected processes but also exposing the personal data. If the data is exchanged over Blockchain network, the overall security of the IoT network is greatly enhanced.
- Smart Contracts – Blockchain have smart applications or contracts that get automatically executed when the conditions are fulfilled. Using smart contracts, the actions can be executed across various entities in the supply chain automatically in an immutable manner without worrying about the disputes.
EXAMPLES OF USING IOT WITH BLOCKCHAIN
The usage of IoT with Blockchain is already gaining momentum. IBM’s Watson IoT platform integrates well with Blockchain (backed by Hyperledger Fabric) effectively combining the two technologies. Similarly, Azure IoT also has good integration with Ethereum, Corda and Hyperledger Fabric. Below are some of the examples of using Blockchain in conjunction with IoT :
- Blockchain can be used to record and timestamp the sensor data. This way the data from the sensors would not be manipulated and can be trusted by all the parties in the transaction. In Smart Cities, multiple entities are collecting and acting on data. The data can be trusted easily by use of Blockchains. Use of Blockchain in Smart City can even enable the citizens/entities to sell their data and get paid via bitcoins.
- IoT has multiple devices and the devices are authenticated based on digital certificates rendering the devices vulnerable to security breaches. Blockchain can create the digital identity of the devices so that they cannot be manipulated. Also, the information about the devices can be dynamically updated leading to higher scalability.
- Provenance of a product can be established using IoT and Blockchain. IoT sensors can be placed on the medicine packets. The sensors can trace and record as the medicine packets move from the factory to the distributor to the retailers using the distributed ledger of Blockchain. IoT sensors with Blockchain can go a long way in getting around the problem of fake medicines in many of the emerging markets.
The Blockchain technology is still in infancy with a few drawbacks that would take some time to resolve but the technology is here is to stay. The biggest drawback is the speed of transactions. Currently, transactions throughput in Blockchains is very limited. As a result, the costs are still high and the full benefit of removing the middleman is yet to be realized. Efforts are underway to increase the transactions throughput.
ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE AND IOT
In earlier times, codes were written and machines would perform as per the software code. The machines brought productivity gains by making processes efficient but failed to do things that they were not coded for. Humans know more than what they can train others and for this very reason machines could never compete with humans in the past. However, now with artificial intelligence and deep learning, it is possible to train machines by making them experience different situations. The algorithms get better with time. This is a revolution and can be effectively used in IoT. IoT means a lot of data. With help of AI, IoT platforms can get the ability to recognize meaningful patterns buried in mountains of data and take decisions difficult even for humans.
IoT platforms are already using machine language which is a sub set of Artificial Intelligence. With full fledged Artificial Intelligence, IoT platforms would be akin to being on steroids. To achieve the full benefit of IoT, not only the speed of analysis is important but also the accuracy of analysis. The decisions made by IoT platforms would get better over time as the AI platform learns with experience.
Predictive maintenance is an area of interest to many manufacturers. The endeavor is always to cut down on the downtime, increase machine availability without increasing expenditure on maintenance. SK Innovation, a leading South Korean oil refiner, is using artificial intelligence to predict the failure of connected compressors. AI based systems have helped save Google 40% of data centers cooling costs by predicting the temperature and pressure thereby limiting the energy usage. All major IoT platforms like Azure IoT, AWS IoT, etc. now have machine learning for predictive capabilities already incorporated but going forward the deep learning capabilities would become more commonplace.
IOT, BLOCKCHAIN & AI IN ACTION – PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
Below is the visual representation of how the three technologies work in tandem with each other. The diagram is a little simplistic as the processes with not happen in parallel all the time and there would be overlaps.
Artificial Intelligence gets layered over the IoT platform while the data from external sources flows through the Blockchain platform. Even the data exchange within the IoT network can happen over Blockchain to ensure traceability and recording of all transactions. Multiple IoT networks can exchange data while the power of AI will get exponentially enhanced with more data. The trinity of these technologies will not only help increase efficiency but also help businesses deliver better customer service.
The trinity is not without its drawbacks. Using the three technologies together would lead to higher complexity while the privacy issues would continue to haunt a number of business and consumer applications. There would be challenges around compatibility due to lack of protocols and standards. Some of the applications are likely to charter in untested territories and may face legal or lack of legal challenges.
IoT, AI and Blockchain can complement each other well and can potentially remove some of the drawbacks of these technologies when implemented in isolation. The idea of these technologies working in tandem is not new but in my opinion the convergence would happen faster than predicted. We need to stretch our minds to fully envision the impact of these three technologies taken together. The technologies have long been driven by the brilliance of technology folks. Now is the time for visionary business people to wake up to the potential of this trinity and start to look at creative ways of using them for appropriate solutions. The limitation is not going to be the technology solutions but the imagination of the business leaders.