Future Shock: M2M Gaining Ground

Charlene OHanlon
It seems as though the hot acronym of the month is M2M (machine-to-machine), the technology that enables two or more machines (processors, really) to 'speak' to each other, thereby cutting out the middle man (also known as humans).

Cisco, for example, announced it is releasing a small form-factor router that, among other things, facilitates M2M communication for uses such as automatic inventory management and real-time traffic alerts, while M2M vendors Axeda and Walsh Vision have partnered to develop solutions that 'keep drivers accountable for bad driving habits,' according to the release announcing their partnership.

These applications sound kind of interesting, and I have to admit I am infinitely intrigued by the idea of my freezer automatically ordering up another pint of my favorite mint chocolate chip ice cream when I run out (and thereby facilitating a perpetual Weight Watcher's membership), but there are implications way beyond my waistline that I can't get comfortable with.

First off, M2M, by its very nature, eliminates human interaction. That's great when we're talking about mundane tasks such as inventory control, but add M2M to other, more complex tasks where the human touch is essential to ensuring a quality outcome - such as patient care or, yes, even driving - and you've got the potential for some very unsettling and potentially dangerous situations.

After all, how would you like to be admitted to a hospital by an electronic 'nurse' that takes your vital signs directly from the sensor-equipped stretcher, escorted into surgery via electronic 'patient movers' and operated on by a robotic surgical machine, all without ever seeing a health care professional before being escorted into surgery?

Not my idea of a comforting situation.

And the idea of cars that drive themselves via signals bounced off strategically located sensor points - well, maybe I'm a control freak, but I know no machine is infallible. And it would be my dumb luck to be the one whose car gets its signals mixed up and ends up crashing into the car in front of me because it thought the lane was clear.

Maybe I'm a little sensitive to the whole machines-running-the-world idea. The "Terminator" series is to blame. Good thing my name's not Sarah Connor.


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Aug 24, 2011 3:08 PM Dave Oakes Dave Oakes  says:
Charlene, An interesting article and one that raises the question of what actually is M2M..? I share your reservations about machines being infallible, but then so are humans. Most M2M applications that I am involved with gather data from remote locations (the definition of remote can vary enormously) and gets it back to where it's best utilised. This could well be another 'machine' or it could be a human being. The benefits of such systems vary, but they can be significant, saving time, money and travel. Some aspects of M2M are very green - one project we are involved with is saving 25% of journeys in very large trucks. Investment in M2M can do more to help save our planet than perhaps anything else. How much would a truck vendor have to invest to reduce emissions by 25% and is it even possible..? It's also a way for the western world to remain competitive - we need to be more efficient in what we do. I encourage you to embrace the world of M2M, not be scared of it. Reply
Sep 1, 2011 4:09 AM Jim Hansen Jim Hansen  says:
Lots of M2M applications are actually about people consuming data that came from a machine or sensor or product, or interacting with it. Think of using your iPhone as a remote control for your car or garage door. Due to the hype, lots of applications are called M2M regardless of people's involvement. Automating the service industry won't be popular, so it has a low chance of success. While "Terminator" depicts machines as intelligent, "Idiocracy" shows what can go wrong, go wrong, go wrong... Reply

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