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M2M: Scary future or exciting reality?

There are many opinions about what form or function machines will take in the future. Countless sci-fi films bombard us with fantasy scenarios set in the future, where machines take over the earth, don’t paint the most appealing picture – but are we getting increasingly confused with artificial intelligence and machine to machine?

Robots which can think for themselves, develop relationships and plan hostile takeovers are, personally, not my idea of a fun future. However a printer that not only knows when the inks is running low but can order a new cartridge and have it delivered to my house? Where do I sign! Machine to machine (or M2M as it is more commonly known) is not a distant whimsical fantasy. It’s real, it’s happening and actually, it’s kind of cool!

M2M is more advanced in some sectors than others. Take manufacturing for example. To be cost-effective, efficient and, most importantly, standards-compliant, factories and warehouses need something in place that can work around the clock and speak to all aspects of its production floor. An M2M communication system will work 365 days of the year, checking all aspects of production, maintenance and distribution and will even (if asked nicely) produce a report for a human to analyse and check all is well. Car manufacturers have been operating with M2M communication systems for years, along with helpful building robots, to ensure every car is made the same, in the same amount of time, for the same cost. Mr Henry Ford would be so proud.

If we head into cities, there are even more areas where M2M is all around us. Traffic lights are everywhere so next time a set delays your journey, take some time to think how they operate. These are a complex set of network-dependant M2M devices that control and regulate the traffic to and from a particular area. There are sensors in the road to detect traffic which react to factors like volume of cars and times of day. The information is transmitted to a central control station where other machines analyse the data and send back a command. They are consistent and operate without prejudice. Think of the chaos when traffic lights fail! We have to rely on human involvement and a lot of rash judgements… Bring back the machines!

In the interest of balance, space exploration is one area robots with artificial intelligence could earn their keep. People tend not to form an emotional bond to robots (well, apart from the coffee machine at work) so would be more inclined to send them packing to far off places within our galaxy for a tiny 50-year mission. We already fire probes into the great unknown but what if that probe or robot could actually describe what they were seeing, alter its course when it felt it should or dive into an unexplored black hole. The data would be fed back to machines on the ground and would significantly expand our knowledge and our universe.

Ok, so we are quite a way off that – and what’s to stop the robot having a mid-space conference with other international robots and using information gathered against us… Scrap that idea!

Essentially, M2M is a term to describe machines that can communicate, share data and perform an action without the need to involve a human being. Artificial intelligence is a completely different thing that means machines can learn, manipulate and adapt to suit their own agenda and environment. One very useful, the other best left to Ridley Scott.

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