Think about all of the data we generate now. Our mobile devices and the apps we use reveal a lot about our habits. We digitize more and more of our lives and store them in the cloud. Our online activity and the way we use services is under surveillance. Wearables are delivering a new depth of insight into our daily movements and even our overall health.
As the Internet of Things enables more data collection and communication between devices the potential benefits in amalgamating personal data and analyzing it are growing. Gartner sees it as “the next phase of the personal cloud movement” and highlights cognizant computing as essential for businesses that want to retain a competitive edge.
There’s definite potential here and it goes beyond delivering tailored adverts and customer retention. Can our smartphones act as personal assistants drawing on a cloud-based brain and intelligent analytics to make our lives easier?
The tip of an iceberg
One of the first apps we came across that tried to apply this idea was TripIt, which focuses on travel. You forward all your email confirmations about flights and hotel bookings and the app generates an online calendar of your trip with all the pertinent details. This still requires you to actually send the emails on and it only works for trips, but it’s a smart idea that has potential to be scaled up.
The most obvious current example in the Android realm is Google Now. It can handle basic tasks for us when we ask, but the real appeal lies in the ability to predict what you’ll need or want to know next, helping you plan ahead with travel and delivering information you might be interested in by analyzing your habits. Where do you travel and when? What do you look for online? What is in your recent emails? What have you been storing in the cloud?
The actual experience with Google Now largely depends on how much data you’re willing to give it, how often you use Google services, and how active you are. It’s far from fool-proof and much of the potential is still unrealized, but we suspect Google is one of the few companies in the world with the scale and the necessary spread to pull something like this off.
Having the scale and oversight necessary isn’t the only problem, but before we look at the obstacles, let’s turn our attention to the potential.
Improving our health
As the Internet of Things takes off, this health angle could extend to new areas
Monitoring our health and fitness is an obvious growth area for tech. Fitness trackers are in the vanguard of the wearables market. You can almost get a personal trainer experience by combining them with cloud analysis and the right apps. As the Internet of Things takes off, this health angle could extend to automatically generate shopping lists and provide an oversight of what’s in the fridge. Your fitness service decides what food you should eat, checks with your fridge what you have in stock, and orders fresh groceries online for delivery.
There are also many apps that provide medical advice, encourage you to compile data for your next doctor visit, and remind you to take pills. As we wear more sensors and amalgamate data about our physical well-being the potential is enormous. Automatic capture of this data is liable to be more reliable than asking a patient to recall. It goes beyond automatic prescription renewals. Analysis of this data could throw up red flags for medical professionals and trigger an appointment. Your doctor could intuit a risk or illness before you think to book a visit.
Organizing our lives
We’re already bombarded by reminders. Companies will keep your details on record and email you at what they interpret to be opportune times. If you ever use a comparison service for car insurance then it will email you about the renewal every year with a batch of new offers based on your previous details. An individual garage might send a reminder that your service is due.
What’s often missing from this scenario currently is the convenience of being able to empower that reminder to go ahead and book it for you. It also has to be an adaptable system. If we take something like travel plans as an example, you want it to flag calendar clashes, change hotel bookings if a flight is cancelled, and identify the best alternative. It should be capable of making intelligent assessments based on the information it has and able to present your choices the way a real P.A. might.
Companies have a real opportunity to improve the customer experience here. Make it easy for us to pay our bills, automatically alert us to savings we might make by taking you up on specific offers or switching tariffs. Instead of cynically fleecing the customer once you have them and focusing on acquisition all the time, how about a little thought towards customer retention? The companies that use data this way will secure much higher retention rates and satisfaction ratings.
How much trust would you put in an app?
This is a key issue if cognizant computing is really going to take off. Where you might feel comfortable empowering a real P.A. to go ahead and make decisions for you, would you be willing to allow an app or service to spend your money? You may secure a cheaper flight if you enable it to automatically book after a cancellation, but you’d want it to check with you first, wouldn’t you?
None of this works at all without us giving up all our data willingly
None of this works at all without us giving up all our data willingly. Many of us already seem to feel that the provision of quality free services is a fair exchange. If we’re going to be bombarded by ads anyway they might as well be relevant, but the insights that companies can pull, even from anonymized big data do have the power to impact negatively on our lives. How securely is our data stored? If companies are going to share it, who can potentially buy access? What happens if insurance companies or employers can get access to this kind of information? How might governments use it? What about criminals?
There are lots of small ways that individual apps and services might provide a better service by considering cognizant computing, but we suspect the really big potential benefits could only be realized by opening up analysis to get a big picture of what we’re up to. That means companies striking deals behind the scenes to share your data, and not everyone is going to be comfortable with that.
Are you excited about the potential of cognizant computing? Do you think the benefits outweigh the risks? What would encourage you to jump onboard?