In 2016, I wrote about the Internet affecting the world directly and physically. It was connected to his smartphone. It had sensors like cameras and thermostats. It had actuators: thermostats, drones, self-driving cars. And it had intelligence in the middle, using sensor data to figure out what to do and then do it. This was the Internet of Things.
The classic definition of a robot is something that feels, thinks and acts: that is the Internet today. We have been building a world-sized robot without even realizing it.
In 2023, we update the “thinking” part with large language models (LLM) like GPT. ChatGPT surprised and amazed the world with its ability to understand human language and generate credible, on-topic, and human-like responses. But what they are really good at is interacting with systems that were previously designed for humans. Their accuracy will improve and they will be used to replace real humans.
In 2024, we will begin connecting those LLMs and other AI systems to both sensors and actuators. In other words, they will be connected to the world at large via APIs. They will receive direct information from our environment, in all the ways I thought of in 2016. And they will increasingly control our environment, through IoT devices and beyond.
You’ll start small: summarizing emails and writing limited responses. Discuss with customer service (via chat) about service changes and refunds. Make travel reservations.
But these AIs will also interact with the physical world, first controlling robots and then having those robots as part of them. Its AI-controlled thermostat will turn on the heat and air conditioning based on who is in which room, your preferences, and where you’re likely to go next. You will negotiate with the electricity company the most economical rates by scheduling the use of high energy consumption appliances or recharging the car.
This is the easy part. The real changes will come when these AIs are grouped into a larger intelligence: a vast network of energy generation and consumption, each building just one node, like an ant colony or a human army.
Future industrial control systems will include traditional factory robots, as well as artificial intelligence systems to program their operation. It will automatically order supplies and coordinate shipping of the final product. The AI will manage its own finances, interacting with other systems in the banking world. It will call in humans as needed: to repair individual subsystems or to do things too specialized for robots.
Let’s think about driverless cars. Individual vehicles have sensors, of course, but they also use sensors embedded in roads and on poles. The actual processing is done in the cloud, through a centralized system that pilots all the vehicles. This allows individual vehicles to coordinate their movement for greater efficiency: braking synchronously, for example.