Rant: M2M won't work until we've perfected H2H communications

Today a top brand hosted an expensive lunch where it revealed its latest study on the Internet of Things (IoT). The research revealed much about attitudes toward machine-to-machine (M2M) business processes. At the same time it made me want to weep for the decline in human communications.

Before we hand over control to the machines, I think we need to think things through. If we can’t empathise with our own species after all these years what chance have we got in building an empire of cyborgs? Besides, there’s a lot of life left in the H2H (human-to-human) business processes.

The event’s host, Vodafone, is one of the most spectacularly successful technology brands in the modern world. So if their people don’t understand the human condition, what chance do the rest of us have?

Am I exaggerating? Let’s examine the evidence.

Yes, they really did choose to make us combine a briefing on the IoT with a three-course lunch. I think I understand their logic, but it is spectacularly bad. You can either have a nice briefing, or a nice lunch. But never at the same time.

A good meal is one of the great pleasures in life. It should be enjoyed at leisure. Listening to a market report, on the other hand, calls for hand/eye/desk/book co-ordination. You don't want to worry about plates and knives and forks getting in the way. Especially not a meal involving a runny poached egg.

Briefings are enjoyable, but they appeal to different senses and parts of the brain. Fine dining stimulates the taste buds, which feed back to the Hypothalamus (the pleasure central region of the brain).

Technology briefings are more cerebral. You get to listen, ask questions and scribble endless notes. The idea is that you learn a bit about the business and technology and translate your understanding into your own words. It’s a time for intense concentration and something of an intellectual challenge. In other words, completely at odds with the atmosphere in which you might enjoy a meal.

You wouldn’t want to reading a novel while swimming, would you? The pages would get messy. So why go to the expense of luring you to a top London hotel, then make you juggle tweeting, eating, meeting, greeting and a technical briefing. 

If we must eat al desko, don’t make us suffer as we watch an exquisitely prepared feast go to waste. Under the circumstances a bag of chips and a pasty would suffice.

The whole experience highlighted how we under-utilise one of the most over-looked systems in history, H2H communications.

As the first course arrived it was undermined by a rival delivery. The Dorset crab, poached duck egg, watercress and focaccia crostini had to compete with the news that CIOs are no longer the sole arbiters of the IoT. Indeed, marketing and operating officers and even chief executives are now taking ownership of machine-to-machine projects.

This news was delivered on a bed of notebooks, garnished with a pithivier of press release and juxtaposed with a freshly polished USB stick. The futility of undermining two human pleasures at once illustrated the tragic underuse of our existing potential.

The human brain has been in development for at least 200,000 years, and we must be on version 2.0 million by now. With an unrivaled intellectual capacity, millions of sensors, constantly upgradable long and short term memory and a sophisticated range of adaptive responses, Homo Sapiens 2,000,000.0 easily outperforms any supercomputer.

As the second course arrived, we were forced to down cutlery to record claims about the IoT’s potential for saving food waste. Ironically, this took place at the very moment that I was forced to watch my pot roasted Suffolk chicken and grilled asparagus going cold.

As I picked at my endive salad, I mourned for the lost advantages of H2H communication systems. The human brain runs for an average 70 years, and needs no electricity. It runs on organic fuel (a combination of protein, carbohydrate, roughage, vitamins and fat) and needs no electricity supply. The H2H sector has a lower carbon footprint, a longer run time and an infinitely higher intellectual capacity than the so-called smart machines that are mooted to replace it. The tragic waste of the caramelised walnuts and mustard served as a warning that machine logic might not be all that it’s cracked up to be.

With the dessert came the refreshing news that now 93% of the Vodafone study group were aware of the IoT – which is way up on this time last year. Having said that, this time last year they were answering a survey about the IoT, so the only surprise is that seven percent seem to have forgotten about the Internet of Things.

Perhaps they were too busy eating their lunches at the time.


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Nick Booth

Nick Booth worked in IT in the UK’s National Health Service, financial services and The Met Police, witnessing at first hand the disruptive effects of new technology. As a journalist and analyst, his mission is to stop history repeating itself.

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