You may not be aware, but a new industrial revolution has started, and a lot of this work is being done right here at HQ Raleigh. Like many revolutions, a riot is helping to kick things off. In this case, it’s the “internet of things” nonprofit RIoT Labs.
RIoT Labs is a 501(c)(3) that is connecting, training, educating and consulting the public on everything internet of things related.
Why the internet of things is being considered a fourth industrial revolution
The internet of things, or IoT, in its simplest definition is the ability of “things” to use the internet without human direction, but the impact of this makes it much more than just a new application of our familiar friend the internet. As we speak, objects around the world are interacting, performing tasks, measuring results, monitoring changes, gathering data, and then uploading and downloading this data without any live human being ever having to do so much as click a button.
“The internet was the last big industrial revolution, and every area of life was affected,” Dr. Sarah Glova, director of growth and communications for RIoT, told HQ. “With the internet of things, it will be the same; every industry is going to be affected. When everybody is able to put sensors on things and collect data on everything they’re doing, it opens up so many possibilities. We aren’t even sure yet what those possibilities are.”
These sensors are becoming so affordable and ubiquitous that certain farmers are placing them by every seed they plant, allowing them to monitor the health, temperature and growth of each budding life. The sensors can collect data on just about everything: temperature, volume, weight, pressure, capacity, movement, sound and much more. One startup working with RIoT is focused at the moment on a gunshot detection sensor that is able to pinpoint the source and location of a gunshot, then move to lock doors, sound alarms and contact the authorities.
Because it’s unclear which data is going to be important and what will not, Glova says all manner of data is being collected, and later it can be sorted for usefulness. An example she gave of data that was pulled out of a large set and used for an unexpected purpose was when rideshare data, specifically counting the number of rides between the Federal Reserve and certain companies, led to an accurate prediction of a change in interest rates.
For consumers, who just want to grab lunch rather than predict the global economy, IoT data will do things like allow them to know a history of their food at the small corner restaurant. It could tell them not only whether the food is organic, but what farm it originated from, what date it shipped and how far it traveled to get to their plate.
Health is another area that will be revolutionized (although she’s quick to say all industries will be). Medical professionals are already able to predict heart attacks and strokes before they happen with sensors monitoring patients and passing that information to their doctors. VitalFlo, which works with RIoT, uses their app to predict when asthma patients will have an attack based on factors like environmental conditions and their personal health history. They can then take the medication before the attack hits, limiting much of the distress and danger.
Having technology monitoring people’s health will save not only lives but money. Surgeries and ER visits are expensive, but if problems can be predicted before they reach a state of emergency, care is often much easier and less expensive.
Don’t worry: this isn’t the arrival of our robot overlords
Just like with previous revolutions, some in the public have concerns. But also like those previous revolutions, the benefits of progress are likely to outweigh the downsides, especially when care is taken to wisely apply these technologies to benefit overall human wellbeing. The two biggest concerns people mention though are privacy (because of all the potentially-personal data being collected) and the erosion of jobs (because of this increasing ability of “things” to be able to perform tasks formerly done by employed persons).
“Security and privacy is the biggest concern we see and potentially the biggest drawback,” Glova said. “Big questions at the moment are: who owns the data, and what can they do with it. We are seeing some laws reacting to this already.”
These laws will bring a lot of necessary oversight to those who would use this data in nefarious ways, but it will take some work for regulation to overtake the speed of innovation. When it comes to the other issue, of artificial intelligence that will replace the need for human workers, Glova says that is not a problem on the horizon.
“Riot is a nonprofit that works in the economic development area,” Glova said. “So we are constantly hearing about the jobs that can’t be filled. It’s hard to reconcile that with, ‘the machines are taking all the jobs.’ There are so many jobs. Our focus needs to be, how can we train people to get into these jobs.”
For those wanting to be considered for those jobs and to remain competitive as this new industrial revolution changes the job landscape though, Glova recommends soft skills like collaboration and adaptable learning. These will help to be able to work across disciplines and to quickly absorb new skills. Hard skills she believes will be highly valued in this landscape include data science, network security, computer science, coding and programming, hardware, and mechanical engineering.
“Any of those skills will have a lot of job security, but they will need those soft skills of collaboration and learning to apply them.”
How RIoT is facilitating the advance of IoT
With “TED-style” educational events, a massive 80-member sponsor network and a 12-week accelerator program for startups, RIoT is working in many areas to advance IoT. Often, just by having events, job seekers and employers are able to connect and a person is hired. RIoT will also connect people directly to their sponsors and others who are looking for IoT-related talent.
“It’s very high touch in that we bring in a lot of outside help to mentor them, and also the RIOT team spends a lot of 1-on-1 time with the startups,” Rachael Meleney, who runs the accelerator program, told us. “External groups hold workshops for them and it’s all free of charge for the startups we choose to work with.”
Seven teams at the moment are in the accelerator program. The wide variety of industries they are operating in, as well as that of those participating in other areas of RIoT’s work, proves Glova’s point that no area of life will be left undisturbed by this revolution.