The Proliferation Of Technology
A few of my previous blogs discuss the proliferation of technology, and the increasing amount of insights that technology companies generate about technology users. The underlying goal is to tailor offerings to the needs of customers, and to stimulate purchases or increase customer loyalty (which can subsequently be monetized). In many cases these technologies add tremendous comfort and ease to our lives. A few examples are:
- Apple’s Siri can dial a phone number on an iPhone while you drive
- Google Maps will help you find places that you want to find, based on your address book, past searches and who knows which other preferences
- Facebook will suggest that you connect with people you knew long time ago; it will help bring new life into old friendships
- Amazon’s Alexa will place an order for you. It will switch on/off the lamp, will turn on/off the fan or change the room temperature for you
- Amazon’s Alexa Muse Auto is a voice-controlled device for your car, which allows you to be “productive and entertained while keeping our eyes on the road and hands on the wheel”.
- Handy apps for your mobile phone (near bed) will analyze your sleeping patterns, and give advice on how to improve your sleep.
These technologies are all around us, all the time. On our smartphone / smart watch, in our cars, or at home as separate devices (Amazon Alexa). These technologies use advanced Artificial Intelligence (AI) techniques to understand what we need. They predict what we will need, and make decisions based on our context (as generated from sensors) at every given moment. The result: life becomes easier and more intuitive.
Thus technology is with and around us all the time. It records what we do, what we try (but fail) to do, where we are, near whom we are… and much more.
The Internet Of Thinking
In its Technology Vision 2018 report, the IT firm Accenture coins the term “The Internet of Thinking”, describing a reality where robotics, artificial intelligence (AI) and connected devices (such as smartphones, smart watches and Amazon’s Alexa) “are bringing a new level of technological sophistication to the physical world”. The Internet of Thinking offers us a “faster, smarter way to live”. Other than “traditional” AI, in Internet of Thinking technologies all of the decisions and actions happen on the (connected) devices themselves, without the need to revert to an external actor to take action based on the collected information (i.e. to make a decision on what’s the best action).
NeuroPace Device Saves Lives
As an example for the benefits of such connected technology, Accenture presents the case of the healthcare company NeuroPace. The company developed a device that “helps prevent seizures by empowering a sensor embedded in a patient’s head with its own processor. The sensor knows each patient’s typical brain activity, and within milliseconds of sensing an abnormality that precedes the beginning of a seizure, the device can decide to deliver specific pulses designed to stop it”. This technology saves lives.
Amazon’s “Just Walk Out” technology
In her insightful blog post “Just Walk Out” with Amazon and the Internet of Thinking, Naomi Nishihara from Accenture writes about Amazon’s “Just Walk Out” technology which is used in Amazon Go’s cashier-less shops. This “Internet of Thinking” technology uses numerous sensors (e.g. weight sensors on the shelves; movement sensors), cameras, and a mobile app to register which customer buys which products. By following a customer through their journey in the shop, knowing through which aisles they walk, how much time they spend in front of every shelf and which products they looked at, Amazon will have an intimate view of its Customer. Next, the author describes a situation that one can label as “ethical dilemma”: “Consider what conclusions might be drawn about a customer who repeatedly picks up and puts down unhealthy items—especially if, from their Amazon.com order history, the company knows the customer has also recently downloaded a dieting e-book. Should the company’s recommendation system promote the items the customer has been picking up, but not buying, in the store? Should it promote healthier items that will help the customer stick to the diet he seems to be on?”
The Internet Of Thinking In Customs, Border Management and Other Law Enforcement Scenarios
We’ve seen the example from Healthcare, where the Internet Of Thinking technology saves lives. Also in Customs and Border Management, and more broadly in many areas of Law Enforcement, similar technologies have big potential.
Catching The Terrorist: Frictionless Reality
Imagine a scenario where technology detects a terrorist at an airport. Or at a football stadium or in any other highly populated area. The “traditional” approach would be for offices in some “targeting center” or “operations center” to monitor inputs from cameras, sensors and other technologies. And when they detect a risk, they send law enforcement to deal with the threat. By the time these forces arrive at the point of interest, there may already be casualties. In the “Internet of Thinking” scenario, technology can make a decision to neutralize the suspected terrorist.
Catching The Terrorist: Responsible AI
It goes without saying that in such a case the technology must be tested to generate a bear minimum of “false positives”. Mistakes of Amazon’s “Just Walk Out” technology result in small and financial damage only. In the case of a terrorist the damage will be greater. But so is the risk. Understandably, this scenario may not sound realistic or feasible to some. But stretching our limits brings progression.
Customs Inspections: The AS-Is Situation
When performing physical inspections, Customs officers need access to a wealth of information. They deal with a very substantial type of risks: intellectual property violations, misclassification (duty avoidance), health risks related to imports of plants and animals, risks related to smuggling of cultural heritage products, risks related to drugs, risks related to dangerous goods, risks related to embargos and sanctions, and many more. Yet, it is impossible for a Customs officer to know everything. Therefore, officers may register observations, and a follow-up check will be done afterwards. Or someone else would process the information at a later stage. In the meantime, the cargo remains on hold.
Customs Inspections Using Internet Of Thinking Technology
Imagine that Customs officers would be equipped with technology including sensors and cameras. These technologies know (just like Amazon knows you) the importers/exporters and their trading patterns, the products that should be expected and any related risks and their characteristics. Based on images captures by the camera, the technology could suggest “The second box from the right has unusual marks; I suggest to open it”.Knowing the inspector’s history, the technology could offer behavioral suggestions, for example: “In 74.7% of your inspections this month you opened the third box from the left of the pile; why not open a different box today?”. Once the Customs officer performs an inspection, the technology can determine a risk level and make an automated decision to clear the shipment (or not to). The technology can warn the officer in case of unexpected radiation, temperature or movements in the warehouse. Thus the technology contributes to the inspector’s own safety and security. In case it detects an emergency, it can call the emergency services pro-actively.
Concluding Remarks: Responsible AI
Naomi Nishihara concludes that “the Internet of Thinking can build a frictionless and intelligent environment, and we also see the rising need for responsible AI”. In the Customs inspection scenario, the technology will collect rich information about the inspector’s own behavior. One must ensure that this information is used only to facilitate the inspector’s work and to increase his/her safety.
Finding the balance between on the one hand a frictionless & intelligent environment and on the other hand responsible AI will be a key challenge in upcoming year. Technology will continue to progress, undoubtedly. It is up to us to use it in a responsible way.
Suggested reading: Why Is Artificial Intelligence A Hot Topic? Implications.