Dmitry Korzun on “Smart” Home, Risks and Prospects

25 May 2020
Dmitry Korzun, the Candidate of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, Associate Professor of the Institute of Mathematics and Information Technologies, Head of the Laboratory for Intellectual Data Analysis, took questions about the prospective areas for the introduction of IoT to our life.
 Dmitry Korzun, the Candidate of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, Associate Professor of the Institute of Mathematics and Information Technologies, Head of the Laboratory for Intellectual Data Analysis, took questions about the prospective areas for the introduction of IoT to our life.

- Dmitry, you have many publications on the Internet of Things. Why have you chosen this area and when have you decided to study it?

- I started studying and developing Internet systems back in 1996 under the scientific guidance of Yury Bogoyavlensky at the Department of Informatics and Computer Support of PetrSU. Consequently, I’ve defended my Candidate’s thesis at Saint Petersburg State University. The thesis focused on the development of an original mathematical method for Internet traffic structure identification. Now, these methods are a separate research area of intellectual data analysis (data mining) for Big Data and Internet sensors. For 10 years, starting from 2006, I have been a visiting PetrSU researcher at Helsinki Institute for Information Technologies where I’ve been engaged in research and development of the Internet of Things technologies. Based on this work and with the support of the FRUCT Association of Open Innovations (established by Nokia Corporation, currently independent organization), we have established a separate line of research in the technologies and applications of the Internet of Things at PetrSU. This field of study is active and covers a plethora of application areas (education, production, history, medicine, etc.) and borders tasks of artificial intelligence. PetrSU scientists have been directly involved in over a hundred scientific publications.  

- What is the Internet of Things, what does it integrate, and how it works?

- Initially, the Internet of Things means that any physical object (i.e. anything: a table, a door, a building, a shoe, a coffee machine) can be turned into an autonomous “computer” system (computing device) with access to the Internet. It means that this “thing” performs not only its familiar functions (a door opens and closes, a coffee machine makes coffee) but it can also transmit information about itself on the Internet to other objects and likewise receive information (a person can check on their smartphone if a door is closed or open, and a coffee machine will signal that coffee is ready, Americano, 120 ml, +64Co). This approach to the Internet of Things has quickly evolved into the concept related to artificial intelligence. If a “thing” can send and receive information then it must be able to understand how to work with this information and thus the “thing” becomes “smart” (a door opens when a person approaches, a coffee machine starts making strong espresso when dessert is served at dinner). This intellect is used by a computer that is built-in this thing or is located nearby. The hardware implements the following additional functions that support the intellect or smartness of a thing:

Sensors: a thing uses sensors to monitor its condition and surroundings (a door senses the approach of a person using computer vision, a coffee machine accepts tasks from a person and makes a schedule remotely from a smartphone).
Data processing (computations): a thing can process data received from sensors or via the Internet and make decisions on actions (a door recognizes fire emergency and opens for evacuation, a coffee machine understands preferences of a specific person and makes coffee accordingly).
Interaction with other things: a thing can share its information with other things on the Internet (a door detects an unauthorized entry and alerts the owner and police, a coffee machine orders whole-bean coffee in an online shop).
Thus, there are many “smart” things around a person. One thing can consist of several other things (e.g. a smart home has smart doors and smart coffee machines) that interact with each other creating more complex forms of artificial intelligence. This type of artificial intelligence is called Ambient Intelligence (AmI).

- Do you think that the self-isolation, remote education and work will speed up the introduction of the Internet of Things to our life?

- The introduction of the Internet of Things even under normal conditions has been a rapid process. In the current situation, people have to communicate with each other while keeping distance, and this means that there are now agents based on the technologies of the Internet of Things. 

One of the prospective areas for introducing the IoT to distant work and study is the so-called intellectual halls. The scientific foundation of these systems and prototypes of technological solutions are developed at PetrSU as well. An intellectual hall creates a digital environment that facilitates the joint activities of people who are in the same room or participate remotely. At the same time, people see each other (via smartphones, video screens, audio, visuals, etc.), exchange information, generate ideas, and jointly work on solutions. 

- Do you use the IoT in your daily life? How?

- The IoT augment human abilities. For instance, a person has long been using glasses to see. In the same way, the IoT allows, for instance, to see what is going on in your car even if you are not there, i.e. a variation of “smart car alarm”. I also dream of a smart coffee machine, yet so far household appliances makers do not allow programmers to introduce their programs.

A substantial part of my life is occupied by the educational and scientific processes of the university. I see prospects for introducing the IoT to them too. Thus, this April students and scientists of PetrSU successfully presented their research and findings in the area of the IoT at the 26th International FRUCT Conference remotely.

- What are the benefits of the Internet of Things for a person?

- By way of example, PetrSU in cooperation with several industrial partners (GS Nanotech, Petrozavodskmach) is currently working on a project that will make industrial equipment (e.g. a machine) smart. As a result, machine maintenance and operation become smart as well. Figuratively, a machine can “tell” workers about itself, for instance:

Detail should be changed within a week
A certain gear should be checked and oiled
Backlog of tasks
During maintenance will remind a serviceman about the unperformed operation
As a result, a person is relieved of the task of collecting “raw data” and can use analytical skills to solve problems based on the obtained data.

- What does a “smart” home mean?

- Imagine that ordinary household chores that require human participation (physical interaction) at your home are now done at your wish, are customized and discreet. You arrive at your home and the coffee machine starts making your coffee. You leave the house and doors close by themselves. Your fridge knows what groceries should be bought for the upcoming week. You sit with your family in front of a TV, watch photos and videos and together plan your next family get-together. At home, you are surrounded by familiar things, yet these things now can share information with you, tell about themselves, and give recommendations on their proper use.

- Where can this technology be applied? How can it be used in business, work of administrative institutions?

- It is hard to name an area of life where the Internet of Things technology cannot be applied. Namely, PetrSU studies and develops solutions for the digital economy, digital society, and digital education. Digital surroundings for joint activities. A setting becomes digital and virtual (remote participation). People see each other (via smartphones, video screens, audio, visuals, etc.), exchange information, generate ideas, and jointly work on solutions. In this manner, the things around people help (assist) them understand each other and look for a solution together. Digital surroundings can be customized for specific subject areas.

For instance, a smart home, where things help a family do household chores, automatize part of routine work on obtaining data. A smart city, where a citizen or a guest gets into the digital environment with things being buildings, shops, cafes, sights, information services of the city administration. All these things can start “telling a person” about themselves (e.g. recommend places with souvenirs on sale or cafes to have a cup of coffee).

A smart museum where visitors and employees can get customized information about exhibits, personal recommendations on what to see there, have an opportunity to share their knowledge with the museum.

Smart materials and microelectronics. Materials of which things are made become computers: they measure their condition and check the surroundings (sensors, monitoring), analyze these data (computations, data extraction) and apply the results to decision making (intellect of a thing, obtaining information from data and sharing it with a human for decision making). Thus, a person gets analytical information about the condition of things and recommendations on the best possible courses of action. Obviously, these technologies can be used in previously mentioned digital environments for people’s joint activities. 

Industrial Internet of Things for diagnostics of technical and service conditions of industrial equipment (machines). As a result, a machine starts to “understand” itself, i.e. it can communicate to a person its “well-being”, recommend changing or checking its parts. At the same time, the factory director or any other responsible employee can get this information (first-hand, without the proxy of personnel) anywhere anytime. Likewise, servicemen now can “communicate” with a machine during its maintenance (e.g. work adjustment or replacement of parts) as it happens in medicine when a doctor asks a patient about complaints.

- Are there any dangers for people? Risks?

- It is common knowledge that any technology can be used for good and for ill. Unfortunately, there will always be people who will use new technology to improve their lives at the expense of others. 

An obvious risk is cybersecurity. The problem is not that a thing becomes smart (i.e. an impression that things can come up with an idea to harm people), but rather that there will be a way to obtain various information about a person’s life, including personal.

- What other limitations are there?

- We are already capable to collect and accumulate data quite well (sensors). We are still not good at providing their security, i.e. someone can use them opportunistically. We are not adept at extracting information from these data (so-called Big Data analytics). A smart thing should provide recommendations (information service) for a person to make a decision on their basis. For that, a person should not only understand the meaning of the recommendations but the way they are obtained and to what extent they can be trusted.

- What do you think about the future of this technology?

- Close integration between the Internet of Things and artificial intellect. The latter implies that data analysis (information extraction from data) is done by imitating cognitive functions of a person, i.e. is aimed at the achievement of a result comparable to a result of human intellectual abilities. This creates an environment to surround a person with various information services that are sensitive and responsive to human presence (i.e. understand human needs). The services are assistants that help people in decision-making. The help is the provision of “information” (what is useful) and “knowledge” (how to use the information). A smart service also supports “wisdom” (rationality of the use). Thus, a person gets not just a recommendation but also several options evaluated according to their efficiency.

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