Thursday, October 20, 2016

GHC16: The Digital Future: Defusing the Hype of IoT and Wearables

Speakers: Kiva Allgood, Esther Lekeu, Melissa Kreuzer, Sunny Webb, Siji Tom

The first indication that this was going to be a great session was the long line of ladies queued up half an hour in advance, waiting to get entry to the conference room - and our expectations were more than fulfilled. On the panel were five women all working in the IoT field, with different backgrounds - Kiva Allgood from Qualcomm, Melissa Kreuzer from Proctor and Gamble, Esther Lekeu from Meta, and Siji Tom from Apple, with Sunny Web from Accenture acting as moderator.

Sunny kicked off the discussion by asking whether IoT is a real thing, or if its still a myth. The panelists seemed to agree that while IoT is indeed a real thing, for a lot of people, its still a myth. Esther pointed out that while countries like the US and China are at the forefront of technology, other countries like Australia, where she comes from, don't really have a high level of adoption yet. Melissa concurred - while there are a lot of interconnected devices available in the market, there's also a wide range of adoption - those in developing countries have little or no access to a lot of the technology.

The panelists then went on to try and define IoT. Siji gave a base definition -  its essentially an internetwork of smart devices or devices that have sensors. Each of these devices can collect data that can essentially be used to make decisions that influence other devices. Kiva gave an example of how they used wireless sensors in an area in a developing country that had only 2 hours of drinking water supply, to collect data that allowed the supply to be increased to 6 hours. Melissa said that their company views IoT as a technology platform to utilize.

Sunny's next question was to ask each of the panelists to name her favorite smart device. Siji, who works on the Apple Watch team, had an obvious answer - the Apple Watch! :-) She loves being able to turn the lights off at home remotely, or to reply to messages from her watch. Esther thinks of her smartphone as an extension of her arm, particularly because it helps her stay connected with family and friends back in Australia. Kiva uses her smartphone to track her kids' location, and completely relies on it for connectivity with her family.

The next topic of debate was what the largest open challenge in IoT is. Siji felt that the biggest challenge her team faces right now is getting consumers to adopt the technology. Also, data privacy and security are major concerns for users - and this is something that there isn't a lot of regulation in yet. Kiva's point of view was that interoperability is a major concern for players in the IoT field, particularly given the large number of devices that are hitting the market. Business models need changing as well. Melissa pointed out that data is a commodity that's being monetized right now, but no company is as yet willing to share the information that they have. This is something that needs to happen in a transparent manner. Esther agreed, and also felt that companies need to adjust to the large number of open-source software packages being released. Siji mentioned that a tenet that her team at Apple holds strongly to is that data that's collected essentially belongs to the user.

The last question was what advice the panelists have for aspiring IoT engineers. Kiva believes that its important to come up with a good problem statement and to solve it diligently. She also thinks that one should be willing to take on new challenges. Esther suggested finding a mentor and trying to get visibility. She said that this was something she had to overcome, as for a long time, she was the only woman on her team, and found it hard to speak up. Melissa gave a great analogy - opposition is like antibodies; you know you;re leading change when people start pushing back. She likes to get "killer issues" (ie, critical assumptions) out early.

There was also some time set aside for questions from the audience, and there were several amazing ones. One audience member asked if there was a downside to IoT. Kiva and Melissa agreed that as parents, they are often worried about the social impact that constant use of devices has on their children. Esther mentioned that her group at Meta, which works on augmented reality, spends a lot of time with neurosurgeons, etc, to make sure that their product has no side effects like eye strain. Siji mentioned that there are some regulations in place to cover health aspects. Another question was on whether there are any industry standards around data privacy yet. While the panelists weren't aware of much going on in that area as yet, Siji mentioned that Apple recently put in place a policy called "differential policy" - data is anonymized, but still contains enough data to be useful.
All in all, this was a great session, with insights into a field that is still considered "emerging tech".

(This post was syndicated from

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