Since the invention of the Renaissance man as the center of the Universe, we have been dealing with a world experienced and interpreted in terms of human values. Yet the ecosphere proves to be far more expansive and multifarious than what human agency and human perception can encompass. Now we have to face the phenomenon of M2M communication and its ramifications.
It is only recently that we have begun to witness a conceptual shift in our perception. Exactly our anthropocentric mindset has been identified as ultimately inimical and as the main cause for human encroachment on the ecosphere. Our very terminology, it turns out, is too self-centered. It cannot account for a nonhuman style of being, a mode of existence that carries on irrespective of human presence or human intervention.
What could be more non-anthropocentric than the Internet of Things?
In the great outside, we encounter a plenitude of singular nonhuman agencies. And against the backdrop of multifarious landscapes of nonhuman interactions, we have the special case of machine learning and artificial intelligence. Here we encounter a multitude of interconnected Things that have been made “smart” and able to “communicate” both to one another and to humans.
On the one hand, these enhanced Things and the terminology that surrounds them are the product of an inherently anthropocentric mindset. They have been made to “operate” within a human world as “tools”, at times only at the sensor level, conceived and produced as subservient to human agency. IoT technology is there to streamline processes, reduce downtimes, make things more efficient, and ultimately increase revenues. Within this mindset, IoT is there to be useful to humans and perpetuate human values.
On the other hand, we have a universe of Things. For the first time, M2M connectivity has enabled, if not empowered, the Things to communicate and form networks. And while M2M communication over a wireless network is still imbued with anthropocentric values, the M2M revolution nevertheless unlocks an unprecedented focus on device-to-device communication.
The society of machines: M2M communication
Trends in the interconnecting of IoT devices can even lead us to speak of a path towards autonomous device-to-device communication. Hereby future IoT devices will be able to form their own autonomous communities and “bond through social connections”. According to a recent paper, such social networks for devices “will be formed dynamically, just like human connections, and based on the needs of machines, their context, and the state of their environment”.
Remaining on top of IoT device management can be overwhelming. The task includes dealing with growing numbers of IoT devices arranged in various device groups. This also involves coordinating and managing the communication between them. Each connected IoT device can be part of multiple networks, connecting with other IoT devices, forming groups, and entering in various arrangements of collaboration. Such devices can be said to form their own social networks: the social networks of machines.
Within this setting, the main goal of M2M communications would be to establish and maintain unpremediated (wireless) communication between devices with no human intervention. The idea is that devices should be able to transmit and share information within their networks autonomously. In this way, data can be transmitted spontaneously, at any time.
The current state of M2M technology is that of moderate, human-orchestrated empowerment. Typically, IoT devices send data to servers and perform limited networking functions. Machines are indeed connected, but this only takes place at the edge of the network. That is, we only have interaction at the lowest physical layer where they produce data. Both the connections they form and the ways they generate data are defined by humans.
The flows of data that eventually end up on servers are coordinated by an intermediary IoT device. That smart device aggregates the data before it reaches the cloud, and so on.
Towards social networks for IoT devices
We know the status quo. But what can we anticipate? Think of a time when machines will gather all sorts of data from their environments and will share it with other machines that facilitate social networking among machines. What we have now in terms of network and machine communication infrastructure is ultimately geared towards communication among humans.
But developments towards a machine-oriented communication network are not unrealistic. M2M communication technology can address the singular patterns of communication that machines prefer. Even more so, it may become more responsive towards the specific needs that machines have.
Using social networks, machines can form connections. They can exchange information, and make use of the capabilities of devices that are not like them. They can also connect to external services or unite — form communities — to achieve a common goal. Devices equipped with different levels of “smartness” will learn from one another and from their environments. IoT devices will be more attuned and responsive to other devices and more receptive to their milieus.
Now, instead of focusing on wireless communication and connectivity, the conversation will be about networking on the level of the connected devices.
The concept of social IoT
Within this scenario, IoT devices may be on their way to becoming fully-fledged actors in the social fabric, forming the overarching phenomenon of social IoT. With this newly discovered agency, IoT devices within social networks will dynamically generate social connections with one another. They will proactively establish an M2M connection to solve a particular problem, offer their unique competencies to other devices, and cooperate with devices towards a common goal.
The social networks for IoT devices will be complex venues of interconnection, a system consisting of billions of different devices. At times, these will sport high levels of heterogeneity, also in terms of capacities and functionalities. Such social networks will truly be ecosystems of Things. Here devices within an M2M system will form alliances to work together and overcome differences and individual shortcomings. This M2M network, or a universe of Things, will ultimately be a social one, geared towards IoT collaboration.
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