Bringing smart, intelligent widgets to life

Bruce Sterling reads GE’s “chest-pounding, visionary” white paper on the “industrial internet” and bristles at a sentence: “The full potential of the Industrial Internet will be felt when the three primary digital elements—intelligent devices, intelligent systems and intelligent decision-making— fully merge with physical machines, facilities, fleets and networks.” He comments:

That sounds like everything got “intelligent” all of a sudden and only a stupid guy would fail to leap around with glee about the prospect. But that’s not how this prospect would actually look-and-feel should it be implemented.

Try describing it this way instead: “The full potential of the Industrial Internet will be felt when the three primary digital elements—algorithmic devices, algorithmic systems and algorithmic decision-making— fully merge with physical machines, facilities, fleets and networks.”

Now you’re talking about an entirely plausible world, where heavy industry is entirely infested with software on wireless broadband. Okay, fine. We all know what software is like, because everybody interacts with it all the time. Forget talking about jet engines that are “intelligent.” Start talking about jet engines running apps and swapping data. The jagged, crunchy outlines of an “Industrial Internet” get immediately obvious then.

I’m not sure I get the crunchiness of data zipping through the air, but I second Sterling’s sentiment. Let’s can the insulting marketingspeak of “smart” and “intelligent” and use some more precise adjectives. We’ll all end up feeling a good deal more intelligent.

10 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

10 Responses to Bringing smart, intelligent widgets to life

  1. Hi,

    Do you know how can I get the authorization to translate this article into French and publish it (with credit and link to the original) in my blog http://wikibuster.blog.lemonde.fr/ ?

    http://www.roughtype.com/?p=260

    Thank you!
    Wikibuster

  2. Tom Panelas

    Thank you. Algorithms may do some impressive things—as well as some baleful ones—but they’re hardly “intelligent.”

  3. I will accept the anthropomorphic term “intelligent” as applied to technology when we all also accept the terms “emotional” and “moral” to it. I apply this criterion also to the use of these terms toward non-human animals (and yes, I realize that more and more claims have been made in this direction).

    Disclaimer: I am in fact completely agnostic about whether in some distant future we will in fact use these terms in all seriousness toward computers. I just don’t think they can be used seriously today yet. There is preliminary discussion by philosophers and ethicists about robot morality, but nobody seriously thinks that robots as they are now are moral.

  4. vanderleun

    “I’m not sure I get the crunchiness of data zipping through the air,”

    Well, you have to remember that there’s always a high blather to insight ratio operating in Sterling’s endless pronounciamentos. He is so willing to share/

  5. “to life ?”

    There is a single machine, and it is always dead

  6. even if evolving all the time
    Technology is a bookshelf (from cranes, cars, to “software”(as hard as anything else if not more))

  7. Ted Seeber

    How about pseudo-intelligent? Kind of like the randomization function in most computer languages is only really pseudo-random (and often uses the time of day for a seed)?

  8. Daniel Cole

    My feelings pretty much echo Franklin’s post.

    Nick, the blog has really be on lately. I’m enjoying it, so thanks!

  9. I’m not sure marketing people are going to get their heads around algorithmic as a substitute for ‘intelligent’, however correct it is or however more times it is repeated at them.

    Algorithmic simply holds no meaning for them. They don’t get it.

    And if they don’t get it, consider the wider audience’s chances.

    So two things:

    1. Those who should know better, should use the correct terminology; but
    2. Should those same people not come up with labels or ways of describing ‘algorithmic devices, systems and decision-making’ which are factually correct – but easier for the rest of the world to understand?

    Anyone want to club together and offer prizes for the best suggestion?

  10. On a lighter and a related note, just the other day I was reading Jose Saramago’s story called Things in which things all of a sudden acquire a will of their own and start disappearing or acting strange. You can read it here or in his “Lives of Things” story collection. If you read the book, there’s another story, “Embargo,” that really punches it (a car that, overnight, starts behaving like it knows what it wants and does only the things that it wants, like pulling into the gas line all of a sudden). Funny…and scary.

    Raj