Will internet of things data change how we live?

27 Oct 2016

Claire Penny, worldwide solution leader for IoT, IBM. Image: Conor McCabe

As our world becomes increasingly connected and data-driven, what can we expect from all of this information processing – a diagnosis from Dr IBM Watson?

Data Science Week

As worldwide solution leader for internet of things (IoT) at IBM, Claire Penny finds ways to transform data, in its broad sense, into something that creates value for a business. That can be informing a new business model, providing insights on efficiencies and optimisations, or offering a way to generate revenue.

Future Human

“It all starts down at the bottom with the data and then managing the data,” she said in an interview with Siliconrepublic.com at the Tyndall Technology Days 2016 event in Croke Park. “Once you’ve got that data and you understand the data, how do you analyse that data and what do you store, what can you dispose of – all of these questions.”

The Tyndall event was all about the future of the internet – how to power it, and how to connect it all. By all forecasts, this future will be an internet of things and, it seems, connectivity isn’t just about hooking devices up to a global network. It’s also about making analytical connections in the data harvested in an increasingly computerised world.

‘Every ounce of data we can get, we feed into Watson and then Watson starts to learn’

Inspirefest 2017

Data collected from the IoT can have a transformative impact on industries such as healthcare, particularly when paired with the analytical power of a supercomputer like IBM’s Watson. Penny is part of a team giving the famous supercomputer a medical education like no other.

“We train the Watson corpus, if you like, with all the information. It’s medical records, clinician records; it’s all the medical journals; it’s external conference proceedings. Every ounce of data we can get, we feed into Watson and then Watson starts to learn.”

However, even with all of this training, it’s not likely that you will be booking an appointment to see ‘Dr Watson’ any time soon. Even the technologists don’t believe that computers can learn the appropriate bedside manner.

“We’re humans, right? Everybody loves the human touch, the face-time,” said Penny. “I don’t think, in my lifetime, that you will ever see robots replacing that side of life where it’s a very important, very emotional time for people.”

Penny likens the supercomputer more to a “right-hand person” that can offer a non-biased opinion on the appropriate next course of action. Watson can process a patient’s symptoms, age, medical history etc and recommend a course of treatment derived from a body of knowledge inaccessible to a single doctor in the time required. It doesn’t necessarily tell doctors what to do, but it does let them know what treatment works 95pc of the time in the case presented.

‘I don’t think, in my lifetime, that you will ever see robots replacing clinicians’

Healthcare is a key area for IoT, seeing as data collection and analysis can be so valuable in the advancement of medicine. However, data’s potential in an IoT world goes beyond that.

Penny says construction is a “sweet spot” for IoT data, and it makes perfect sense. Construction starts with 3D models of buildings, which can be enhanced using information and data throughout the project.

“What we need to do, and where the construction industry is going in terms of its digitisation, is to take that digital asset and ensure that it mirrors the physical asset right through the life cycle. And then what that generates is a real, accurate representation of the physical world so that you know where hazardous materials are, you know where your high-value assets are, you know where the people are, health and safety – I mean, the use cases are phenomenal,” she said.

“That’s one really big area where I think we’re going to have a positive impact from the internet of things.”

Elaine Burke is the editor of Silicon Republic