When the Machines Do the Shopping

Automation is flowing into our lives so persistently and quietly that we hardly notice. Gone are the folded maps in the glove compartment. Now it’s click on your navigation app, and dutifully follow directions – maybe feeling a twinge of guilt when you ignore the spoken command to take a short cut of your own, knowing that behind the scenes the app will cope, though with a bit of nagging until it figures out the full intent of your alteration.

From Amazon’s automated re-orders or Apple’s Dash service, or communicating with Artificial Intelligence behind shopping chatbots, we are increasingly entrusting certain mundane chores to automations. Of course science fiction has been filled with casual human-to-machine conversations (including that not-quite-so-casual conversation from 2001: A Spacey Odyssey “Open the pod bay doors, HAL.”)

But for really capturing the spirit of what is heading our way, I like something written more than 15 years ago by Harendra Alwis in the Sunday Times of Sri Lanka: “Man and machine will gossip about the morning news headlines, and computers will do the shopping for us and manage our appointments.”

While we are still a ways from being able to gossip about the news with our devices, we are getting closer to the point where we will be able to say: “Find me the best deal on organic turmeric, and consider user reviews, and whether it’s been tested for heavy metals or other contaminants. Then buy it with quarterly re-shipments.”

Whether shopping for turmeric or skateboard replacement wheels, you get the idea. We will soon be able to offload hours of comparison shopping and review reading and spend our time doing something other than staring into a computer screen.

This same will be true for industrial IoT: “Find me the best price + quality-rated purchase for hydraulic fluid. Rate for thermal stability, hydrolytic stability, water rejection, and viscosity. Purchase delivery of two 55-gallon drums per month for rest of year.”

Whether shopping for IV bags and surgical tools, or pencils and staplers, bringing automation to shopping is going to relieve a lot of tedium (while retaining the option of doing all of this by hand for those who actually enjoy the shopping process and creating their own feature/comparison spreadsheets, and wading through product reviews).

The bottom line is that machines will soon be able to do the shopping. And when that happens, when one machine strikes a deal with another, we will need to ensure that such machine-to-machine transactions are secure and immutably recorded.

Security is a massive challenge throughout all the realm of computation and communication, but perhaps especially so for the Internet of Things, where devices tend to live beyond the traditional protection of firewalls and other enterprise security measures.

Before we can trust our own IoT devices, as well as the billions of other IoT devices they could potentially interact and transact with, we need to create systems that provide immutable device identity and a secure environment in which validated devices can transact with other securely validated devices. We need a living system of device reputation monitoring and reporting, so malfunctioning devices can be flagged and repaired, and compromised devices, in control of bad actors, can be identified and blocked.

We need validated device identity, reputation tracking, and immutable blockchain ledgering before we’ll be able to securely send our computers – or smartphones – out to do our shopping.

This is why we are creating Atonomi.

Thanks for reading,

Vaughan