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  1. Emerging Technologies: Autonomous Agents and Things

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    One of the hottest trends in technology is autonomous agents and things. That nebulous-sounding term is actually quite precise – it’s a technology that takes advanced machine learning a step further, so that it can make complex decisions on its own, or autonomously. This is beyond simple automation, where something happens automatically according to hard-and-fast rules. Instead, autonomous agents and things make reasoned decisions based on multiple factors about the current situation – they choose actions designed to meet a certain goal without the involvement of people.

    Examples include technologies like self-driving cars, advanced robotics, certain computer programs (including some viruses), or even something like a smart thermostat that senses when people are home and when they’re not, as well as other environmental changes, and adjusts accordingly – as opposed to one that is merely automated, running on a pre-programmed schedule.

    This is an emerging technology, but we can see its evolution in technology most of us encounter every day. For example, virtual assistants like Siri (Apple), Cortana (Microsoft) and Now (Google) began as little more than voice recognition search functions, but are now much more sophisticated. In fact, in 2016 Apple announced that it is allowing third-party apps to access Siri, so that users will be able to ask Siri to accomplish tasks such as sending payment or searching images. Eventually the user experience of a smartphone will likely have an autonomous agent as the entire user interface, rather than a screen full of buttons for different applications.

    Autonomous agents and things builds on the Internet of Things, in which devices are connected to the internet so that actionable data can be gathered. But the deluge of data provided by the IoT is becoming so overwhelming that it’s too much for humans to process. That’s where autonomous agents and things comes in — in the autonomous world, many technologies are interconnected and share data, and then act on it without the involvement of people. In fact, we’re now starting to refer to the Internet of Autonomous Things, or IoAT.

    Challenges with the technology

    We’re not close to the point where an autonomous agent could take over the world, as has been depicted in numerous sci-fi movies (2001: A Space Odyssey, or Her). But there are some significant, albeit more pedestrian, challenges to be addressed.

    Data security on the devices themselves is a significant problem, in that data can be easily recovered from decommissioned items such as smartphones – and people upgrade their phones at an extraordinarily rapid rate. And all kinds of IoT devices with capacity for storing and transmitting data are discarded frequently as well.

    But virtual data security is an even more significant issue. As we’ve seen, the IoT is vulnerable to hacks and security breaches. Currently, the most pervasive problem is that devices are inadequately protected by passwords, leaving them open to be recruited into giant, impersonal botnets used in distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks. But as we move toward the Internet of Automated Things, where decisions are being made based on data collected by these devices, the potential implications of such hacks – either to the devices themselves, or the cloud where the data is stored – could become more directed, and even more serious.

    Furthermore, security issues – perceived as well as actual – might impact the growth of the technology in that they could cause people to distrust automated systems and things. We’ve already seen this effect with the IoT. It will be important for designers of automated consumer goods to learn from the mistakes of the IoT and effectively address security issues early in the technology’s evolution.

    Another potential issue for automated consumer goods is that people might find them too complicated to use. If, for example, consumers pay extra to buy cutting-edge automated thermostats but get frustrated trying to program them, they’ll give up on those advanced features and just use the manual settings – and might think twice before choosing an automated product again. To avoid this, designers will need to pay special attention to the user experience as they roll out new products.

    In the longer-term, liability will become more of an issue as systems become more and more autonomous – in other words, who will be held responsible if the system makes a decision that has harmful consequences? The manufacturer, or the owner of the system? It’s not difficult to imagine a scenario in which an autonomous system makes a decision that truly couldn’t be foreseen, especially as systems become more sophisticated. The regulatory framework will need to evolve along with the technology.

    Current applications of autonomous agents and things

    Computer programs are among the most well-developed applications of autonomous technology right now. For example, sophisticated supply chain management programs are capable of evaluating and reacting to needs such as ordering supplies, scheduling workers and so on without human involvement – going beyond simple automation.

    Driverless technologies are already utilized in cars – for example, cars that can park themselves into tight spaces, or automatically brake when they get too close to another car or object. Evolution of truly driverless cars isn’t far behind — in fact, experts think this is possible by 2021. Ford, Nissan, Google, BMW, General Motors, and Daimler are just a few of the big names working toward this goal. Data security is of particular importance with this potential application, as the implications of hacking could be dangerous or life-threatening.

    The world of autonomous agents and things is ever-changing. Keep up with your business’s advancing bandwidth demands with DQE’s secure fiber optic network services, where scalability is unlimited and customization is key.

  2. Is Your Business Prepared for a DDoS Attack?

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    On October 21, the east coast of the United States woke up to find a significant portion of the Internet wasn’t working. Twitter, Etsy, Tumblr, Reddit, PayPal, SoundCloud, Spotify, Amazon, and even the New York Times were among the sites users were having trouble reaching. The culprit was a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack on Dyn, a New Hampshire-based Internet infrastructure company. The incident was an unusually large attack, and fortunately it was resolved by the end of the day. However, it illustrates why DDoS is one of the biggest threats to Internet security today.


  3. What the Internet of Things Means for Your Business

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    Has the Internet of Things impacted your life? The answer is yes, if you own a FitBit, thermostat, alarm system or other device that communicates with your smartphone. First coined in 1999, the term Internet of Things, or IoT, refers to the way physical devices are increasingly built to collect and exchange data over the Internet – with profound and growing implications for the business world.

    As the McKinsey Quarterly put it, “When objects can both sense the environment and communicate, they become tools for understanding complexity and responding to it swiftly.” The potential for improved accuracy, efficiency and profits across almost all business sectors is incredible.

    Take manufacturing as an example. Notes Industry Week, “smart manufacturing is about creating an environment where all available information – from within the plant floor and from along the supply chain, is captured in real-time, made visible and turned into actionable insights.”

    The Wall Street Journal explains how early adopter Harley Davidson is using IoT technology in its recently renovated York, Pa. manufacturing facility. Manufacturing execution systems (MES), a form of software, tracks and documents all of the information gathered by sensors and other applications monitoring every step of the production process. Important environmental details like humidity and temperature are measured, and machinery automatically adjusts as needed to maintain optimal conditions. The data allows the company to streamline production, eliminate bottlenecks, and even anticipate problems before they happen – and in fact, Harley Davidson is now able to complete a new bike every 86 seconds.

    One of Harley Davidson’s competitors, Zero Motorcycles, is utilizing IoT technology by manufacturing bikes that are connected. Information Week explains that a mobile app allows the owner to transmit data from the bike to service professionals and to Zero in the event of mechanical trouble. Not only does this result in customers better able to maintain these high-end bikes, the resulting data is invaluable to Zero in product development.

    As we can see from these examples, the IoT utilizes a two-part process: gathering of information and utilization of that information. At the moment, the business world is doing a better job gathering the information than utilizing it, but this will change dramatically as the technology develops. The IoT is expected to have a huge impact in almost every field of business, but especially in infrastructure and energy, manufacturing, healthcare, and logistics. Media and advertising will become even more targeted, as data will enable advertisers to further refine when and where their ads are served, ensuring that they reach the most promising customers at the best possible time.

    Growth predictions for the IoT are staggering. The IoT Consortium expects that 30 billion devices will be online by 2020, and the worldwide market will grow from $591 billion in 2014 to $1.3 trillion in 2019. The volume of data will reach 403 ZB per year by 2018, up from 113.4 ZB in 2013. New and exciting uses for the data will continue to be refined — particularly in the area of automation, where human involvement with the data is not necessary for improved efficiency — which will spur further growth in the longer-term.

    Those growth statistics indicate the profound impact the IoT will have on the networking world, and on your business. IPv4’s limited address space will be exhausted as the number of online objects continues to multiply, which means the adoption of IPv6 will be imperative. Most importantly, the IoT is driving a drastically increased need for reliable, secure bandwidth.

    The implications of the IoT will be felt throughout your entire business model. The IoT can be used right now to improve energy efficiency at your facilities, and in some cases to optimize business processes. In the longer term, the IoT’s ability to capture and analyze enormous amounts of data will enable better control and automation of business operations, and creates a tantalizing potential to sell data as well as products. Network speed and data security will be imperative, both internally and on the customer side. Data storage will also become more and more important as the IoT gathers increasing amounts of information.

    With the coming of the IoT, DQE can help. Increasing bandwidth to provide the speed your customers demand — and that the IoT requires — is imperative. Fortunately, DQE offers a highly secure fiber network with unparalleled reliability, with business solutions that grow as your needs and the IoT require. Talk to a DQE network service representative about a customized network solution today!