Jonathan Ballon, Vice President in the Internet of Things Group (IOTG), Intel Corporation.

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You’ve mentioned that IoT is the single biggest technology enabled opportunity in history. Can you elaborate a little on this?

We mostly think of the Internet as something we access through our phones, PCs, or tablets in the form of shopping, social media, and other services. But what IoT allows us to do is to instrument the data in our world. So, you’re taking data sources from a variety of different places in order to provide the next level of insight into those physical environments. In healthcare for example, the use of computer vision technology to perform better than human accuracy when interpreting images of the body in the form of MRIs.

And what’s accelerating IoT deployments are the tremendous advancements in AI that has taken place in the last couple of years.

But IoT deployments still feel like they’re in their infancy… It’s like what William Gibson famously said, “The future is here.

It’s just not widely distributed yet.” The technologies are actually mature, but what we haven’t seen are standards or platforms emerge. The industry is still somewhat fragmented. There’re a lot of silo-ed deployment, where thousands of examples of IoT solutions that are adding value, but what we’re only now starting to see is a maturity to the point where you’re getting repeatable deployments; the same solution deployed in different organizations.

This has happened in the past year, and we (Intel) actually track this. We have a program called Market Ready Solutions that looks at how we can bring all the components necessary in order to deliver an IoT solution. If it has been deployed once, that’s cool and interesting, but if it has been deployed a dozen-two dozen times, then we know that this is a solution that has potential.

How do you rate the deployment of IoT solutions in terms of importance to an organization today compared to other technologies?

Well, Singapore was rated by Juniper Research as the top smart city in the world across all four categories that they measured: mobility, healthcare, public safety and productivity.

You talked about silos and proprietary ecosystems for IoT solutions. Doesn’t this defeat the purpose of widespread adoption?

What we find over the last several years is that the burden of technology choice and integration falls onto the customer, and because it’s so fragmented, it’s become stymied.

So, we’re a big proponent of open architectures and standards, particularly around data. And because we’re Intel, we’re kind of at the foundation of a lot of technology assets, hardware and software. Hardware manufacturers, software vendors, system integrators, distributors, and cloud service providers, all of these companies are in our ecosystem. What we’ve built over the past few years, through Market Ready Solutions, is to bring all these disparate pieces together into a purpose-built, preintegrated, pre-tested solution and we release that in the industry.

It becomes almost like a SKU. Customers can buy into an asset management solution, or logistics solution or intelligent retail solution. We now have over 200 of these in our portfolio and we can actually track how many times they have been deployed. Some of them never do more than a couple of deployments, while some can see an extraordinary number and doing like 10 deployments a month around the world.

The term IoT gets thrown around, and it’s so broad it can mean nothing and everything. What is the difference between enterprise IoT solutions and consumer IoT gadgets?

I like to talk about things that are smart and things that are intelligent. Independent single products may be smart, they may generate data, and there may be some analytics that can be performed on that data, but generally, we’re looking for devices that are intelligent.

Smart devices may have the ability to think, to take information and process it, whereas intelligent devices have the ability to learn. With all of the development in AI technology over the years, we’ve been focused on how to harness intelligence, into devices that can learn in order to incorporate them into these (enterprise) IoT deployments.


“Smart devices may have the ability to think, to take information and process it, whereas intelligent devices have the ability to learn.” 

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Is there a space in the consumer home for this kind of intelligence?

Sure, home automation has been trying to do this for over a decade. Partially, it’s down to competing standards, such as communication standards. Partially, it’s been really expensive and the value proposition for the home owner hasn’t really been there.

The real breakthrough in home automation hasn’t been the automation part itself. It’s really been in the digital assistant, like Alexa or Google Home. But even then, we’re seeing slowing growth and a lot of privacy concerns.

Speaking of which, is there a middle ground between security and privacy?

To me, security and privacy are related, but separate topics. Security is about how you keep your systems safe and data secure, how you authenticate your identity. Privacy is how you take control of your data, who has your data, where it is stored and how it is being used.

The reality is that people don’t have privacy. Privacy is a myth, an illusion. But what we can do is set standards as to how companies, how governments can use our data. And we can take ownership of it as individuals and create legislation and rules around those protections.

Ultimately, there needs to be a value exchange. I’m willing to give up my data—healthcare data for example—if that means I’m going to have a more accurate diagnosis if I’m ill. Other people might want to protect their healthcare data at all costs, even though it might mean a better outcome for them. That needs to be a personal choice.

Is there any way to reduce the impact of privacy breaches in this digital age?

Imagine opening a feather pillow and the feathers blow away in the wind. That’s your data. It’s already happened. The wind has blown and the feathers are out there. To try and pick up every one of those feathers to stick back into the pillow is impossible. So, with all these security breaches around the world, the majority of people’s data is already out there. It’s been copied, and distributed.

So, I think what we can do moving forward is to find better ways to protect our own data, in the sense of understanding where it is and how it’s being used. Governments definitely has a role to play in requiring more transparency from technology companies about your data, and regulating how companies have access to use your data.

Going back to Singapore and how it’s supposedly at the forefront of smart cities, but we don’t see or feel it. What gives?

It was at the World Economic Forum about two years ago that Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google said that the Internet will disappear. What he meant by that is that the Internet today is something we lean into, we access it, whereas Internet services such as those in the IoT space and smart cities will be a set of background services that just take place in the form of autonomous capabilities that just exist around you like more efficient power distribution, more efficient buildings, more reliable rail transport, safer intersections and cleaner cities.

Those are things that Internet connectivity will be able to support and when you apply AI, deep learning and machine learning capabilities onto these physical systems, you may not see them, but you will experience them.

Is there an example of this happening in Singapore?

Well there’s SWAN (Smart Water Assessment Network), which are these robot swans that are swimming around your reservoirs collecting real-time information about raw water. That’s a great example of a system that’s happening in the background to make sure you have cleaner water in the reservoirs, which is an absolute requirement for citizen health that most people don’t even know exist.

“Privacy is a myth, an illusion. But what we can do is set standards as to how companies, how governments can use our data.”

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