Many years ago I read the sci-fi-classic “the hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy” by Douglas Adams. I was intrigued by the scene of the elevator that could see in the future. The Sirius Cybernetics Corporation Happy Vertical People Transporter has the capacity to see dimly into the immediate future, which enables the elevator to be on the right floor to pick you up even before you knew you wanted it. This way when you walk towards the elevator it just appears and already knows what floor to bring you to, so the waiting time is eliminated.
Back then it sounded totally impossible to me. How could an elevator know about the future? Only a human elevator-operator could add intelligence to an elevator, at least that was my experience back then.
But things have changed.
The first change I noticed some ten years ago, was that you had to enter the desired floor-number while calling the elevator. That way the elevator-system could plan the optimal route through the building and the group of elevators together works as optimal as possible. But although it was more efficient, that elevator wasn’t waiting for you when you walked towards it.
Nowadays, with RFID sensors omnipresent and all sorts of systems connected through the Internet of Things (IoT), it’s quite easy to connect the access-gate of a building to the elevator-system. As soon as you enter the building the elevator knows you’re coming. So it can actually be waiting for you. But then it only knows you have arrived, it doesn’t know where you want to go. Or does it?
Most people have a desk at a certain floor. (Even most people that work in a flexible office still go to the same part of the building every day). So the elevator-system can remember the floor you normally go to in the morning. This still can’t be called intelligence, it’s just remembering.
The elevator can store all of your movements and from that, learns to predict where you want to go, based on your normal pattern. A coffee-machine-service-lady for example always goes up one floor every time and when she has reached the top-floor she goes all the way down again. Unfortunately most people are not as predictable as this.
Luckily again the Internet of Things will help us. Your smartphone holds your diary. Your diary says you have a meeting at the seventh floor, connect your smartphone to the elevator-system using IoT and the elevator knows where you want to go.
But still this is not enough, because do you put “go home” in your diary every day? (I don’t 😉 Here big data comes in. The elevator remembers your behaviour and after some time knows that if you approach the elevator around 17:00 hrs and you don’t have an appointment you are obviously going home. Combine this big data solution with an IoT application that notifies the elevator that you have logged off your computer and the elevator is sure you are going home and thus want to go to the ground floor.
Real machine intelligence arises when the elevator system uses all data from sensors and systems, through IoT solutions, combines it with historical data on which it performs big data analytics and learns from previous experiences, to finally make intelligent decisions that will surprise people because your elevator really appears just before you realise you need it.
So the combination of all modern technologies, machine learning, IoT, Big data analytics and machine intelligence makes the elevator a state of the art type of robot that uses all kinds of input to be at your service. Although it cannot actually see in the future, it comes really close.
But although it all sounds nice, as you know people sometimes (want to) do unexpected things, so you will still want some sort of possibility to override the choice of the elevator, just like Zaphod and Marvin needed to convince the elevator to go to the 15th floor in the scene from the Hitchhikers guide to the galaxy.
Because the intelligence of the elevator is very helpful but does it totally replace human intelligence?