IoT Trends in 2018: AI, Blockchain, and the Edge

Bret Greenstein
January 9, 2018


The Internet of Things has come a long way since the early 80s, when a group of Carnegie Mellon students turned a Coke machine into what may be the first Internet appliance[1]. Their journey began after these students became growing frustrated to find out the machine was empty. That lone connected device has since been joined by billions of others – an estimated 29 billion within the next two years, according to IDC – spanning industries as diverse as automotive, manufacturing, electronics, aerospace, and almost any other industry you can imagine.

Now, as we embark on a new year, the Internet of Things (IoT) is continuing to evolve away from just connected devices, and converging with new technologies like AI and blockchain to help us be more productive, better informed, and to live with new levels of convenience. Further, with the application of edge computing and IoT in industrial solutions, 2018 will be a revolutionary year in improving human’s ability in the workforce.

AI is the Future

Augmented intelligence (AI) is helping to usher growth and prosperity in every industry across the globe. This intelligent technology is developed and used to “augment” performance and improve outcomes, but does not replace human power. It’s man and machine, not man versus machine – an important distinction when it comes to applying AI to IoT.

The convergence of AI and IoT means that these physical devices can now see, hear and understand the world around them. They can make sense of the vast amount of unstructured data that is being produced and then provide businesses with more intelligent insights that enable more innovative uses which will directly benefit all of us - both professionally at work, and personally at home.

For example, IoT is now being used in places like hospitals, hotels and conference rooms and the interactions with these locations are as seamless as ever. Now, you can simply speak to these connected rooms to adjust the blinds or ask for more information about your physician, or even the weather. These types of activities can be applied throughout our day to day functions: from smart alarm clocks that signal coffee makers to automatically brew in the morning, to cars being able to send an alert about black ice ahead and suggest an alternative route, to mobile devices that can identify when you’re running late to work and suggest an email to notify colleagues.

This new era, an era of man + machine, will bring new levels of innovation, efficiencies and convenience to our hyper connected world.

Industry 4.0

Within two years, IoT will be the single greatest source of data on the planet. This data will be generated by billions of interconnected sensors and devices that are embedded into the world’s physical systems. These connected devices and their data are the heartbeat of the fourth industrial revolution (Industry 4.0), with the promise of significantly improving more than a business’s bottom line, but ensuring employee safety, product quality, processes, and time to market.

In 2018, we will continue see massive growth in the use of IoT in industrial and manufacturing industries, with improved automation and self-configuration, cognition and intelligent support to significantly improve human abilities in the workforce.

This “Smart manufacturing” will increase efficiency, productivity, safety as well as product output. In addition, industrial and manufacturing organizations will achieve quicker production rates and speed to market, with increased accuracy and data available using IoT.

Pushing Computing to the Edge

When we think about how IoT is expanding to new industries, edge infrastructure is a critical component that is making this all possible. According to IDC, IT spend on edge infrastructure will reach up to 18 percent of total IoT infrastructure spend by 2020. There’s two components of edge that will be prevalent this year.

First, businesses with oil rigs, factories, shipping operations and mines where the bandwidth is poor, will leverage edge devices and apps to extend their cloud functions and as these connected devices become smaller and more inexpensive, not only will their deployment extend, their capabilities will as well.

The second component of edge computing to watch in 2018 will be how cognitive capabilities are increasingly being pushed to the edge, such as the ability for cameras to see images and listen to sounds, interpret them, and then perform an action. These types of applications and voice analytics will be a huge source of growth within IoT throughout the year, and they will contribute to more mainstream consumer use, like a car’s navigation system that can switch from the cloud to the edge and back when driving through tunnels or any other hard to reach places.

This extension of cloud – and cognitive – capabilities on the edge will increase the strength and accessibility of the IoT network, and deliver actionable and smarter insights for maximum impact.

Blockchain Upping IoT Transparency

Blockchain will transform the transparency and assurance of transactions, and when you marry this with IoT, it enables IoT devices to share critical data across businesses and across processes.  This will help businesses across all industries to have a powerful tool to transform their business and ecosystem.

It is critical that sensitive information collected by connected devices is kept safe, especially as the amount of data continues to grow. Working on a blockchain requires every party involved to verify each transaction, enabling businesses to track IoT data as it moves from device to device – preventing disputes, upholding accountability, and maintaining secure, transparent and accurate transactions. Applying blockchain to IoT also creates more scalable and cost-effective solutions by creating a secure solution that does not require central control and management.

For example, with an IoT-enabled blockchain, freight companies can store temperatures, position, arrival times, and find out the status of shipping containers in order to speed up delivery times. Or manufacturers that create components on vehicles and aircrafts can provide greater insight and visibility in safety and regulatory compliance. While we are still in the early stages of combining blockchain and IoT, this will be an exciting area to watch as companies determine how to apply them to their business together and demonstrate the real potential that they hold.

After a decade of working with more than 6,000 IoT adopters spanning the automotive, oil and gas, transportation, aerospace and defense industries, I am excited at the prospect of IoT, especially as more businesses understand the true value IoT brings to their bottom line. The sky is the limit. Just consider this fact--IBM predicts that the data derived from these connected devices will produce insights that drive economic value of more than $11 trillion by 2025. I am sure that 2018 will see truly transformative partnerships and innovations that will create new possibilities for businesses and industries.



Bret GreensteinBret Greenstein is Vice President of IBM Watson’s Internet of Things Consumer Business, aimed at reaching consumers at scale by establishing new IoT products and volume offerings by tightly collaborating across IBM business units and leveraging capabilities from The Weather Company. Since joining IBM Watson IoT, Bret and his team have been instrumental in helping industrial clients around the world to design, build, and operate connected things through software solutions and industry expertise. Bret has over 28 years of technology and leadership experience in all aspects of IBM's business. He holds patents in the areas of collaboration systems and is a graduate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute with a Bachelor degree in Electrical Engineering, and a Master’s degree in Manufacturing Systems Engineering.




2018-01-12 @ 2:25 AM by Shekhawat, Rajveer

Hi Bret! Good exposition on what's coming up in IoT domain. But as you are aware, there is major segment of IoT devices running on battery and block chains in its present form would not suit due to its heavy power consumption requirements. We need to explore so.e light weight security and trust mechanisms.