Smart Basics #4: What is ‘smart’ technology?

April 12th, 2019

If you search the term ‘smart’ in relation to technology, you may wonder whether marketers are slapping the ‘smart’ label on any connected tech or concept that comes their way. Smart cities, smart cars, smart speakers, smartphones… but what does the term ‘smart’ actually mean in the tech industry?

At first mention, it’s hard to disassociate the word ‘smart’ from the classroom. The progressive high achievers who sit in the front row. Being smart relates to having intelligence or ‘the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills’. Link that definition to smart technology and you’re in the realm of responsive/reactive technology, analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence.

Does choosing a smart vs non-smart device mean the user is making an ‘intelligent’ choice? After all, if you’re not using a ‘smart’ device or application, does that mean you’re old-school; that you’re slow on the uptake and all non-smart alternatives are backwards? The tech industry would likely answer ‘yes’, and not only because they want you to buy their latest products. The fact is, smart is the way of the future.

Children are growing up in a connected world, one that’s expanding and evolving all the time. Gartner estimates that by 2020, more than 20 billion connected sensors, endpoints and digital twins will exist for potentially billions of things, while BI Intelligence anticipates that 34 billion devices worldwide will be internet-connected. Gartner’s research also shows that by 2020, the average affluent family will use more than 500 connected devices. Perhaps the post-Generation Z cohort will be known as Generation Smart?

The label ‘smart’ doesn’t only mean ‘intelligent’ technology, though. The most common definitions of smart tech we hear are ‘Internet-connected’ and ‘interconnected’. Wikipedia states that ‘smart objects’ can also be known as smart connected products or smart connected things (SCoT). Consumers outside the tech industry often assume that if a device is connected to another device or hub, the internet is involved.

In practice, many alternatives exist such as the protocols Bluetooth v4/Bluetooth LE, Zigbee and Zwave. Wi-Fi, though primarily associated with internet connectivity, is a wireless protocol that can connect devices without any internet requirements. So describing a smart device as connected is accurate but a smart device need not be internet-connected to transfer and receive data, analyse that data, make reactive decisions and automate processes.

The same is true of artificial intelligence, as a device that operates using machine learning principles or AI could be labelled as ‘smart’, but most smart devices are only at the beginning of the machine learning/AI journey. Tech devices exist that cannot operate without AI or machine learning, but most ‘smart’ consumer products are everyday electronic devices in ‘non-smart’ form that have been adapted. These modifications take the form of adding updated processors, sensors and software to create intelligent, automated and autonomous devices, such as phones, vacuum cleaners, coffee machines and light bulbs.

As we see the media begin to embrace the concepts of ‘smart cities’, ‘smart buildings’ and ‘smart environments’, it’s hard to believe that no single, clear definition of ‘smart technology’ exists. Ultimately, perhaps it doesn’t matter what the term ‘smart’ stands for, it’s the idea it represents that counts: evolving towards a connected future.

What does the Smart mean in mySmart? It means creating intelligent environments, staying on top of evolving technology and futureproofing against accelerating change.

Whether you’re at the design stage of your smart building, or looking to futureproof your existing building, we’re an Australian company at the forefront of creating intelligent environments.

Contact us to identify how our solutions can effect positive change for your needs – it’s what we’re good at.

Building smart cities, one mySmart building at a time.