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The Tech Behind the Tech: How Smart Technology Works
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
-Arthur C. Clarke, Profiles of The Future, 1961
Consider the advancements that have recently been made in the field of “smart” technology. It seems as though every new gadget and gizmo that comes out has its own built-in supercomputer, and is capable of wirelessly connecting to the internet without you even having to push a button. This kind of technology would have looked like science-fiction to us only 20 years ago, but now we accept it as commonplace. However, when we get right down to it, many of us still look at this technology with a bit of mistrust. Commonplace as it is, unless you happen to have a doctorate in computer science or electrical engineering, chances are the inner workings of smart technology might as well be magic. Well, it doesn’t have to be that way. With a bit of research, you can peel back the mask of silicon and stare at the face of applied science. For example, let’s take a quick look at four of the technologies that makes smart gadgetry possible.
Without wireless communication technology, we wouldn’t be able to enjoy all of those handy mobile smart devices on which we rely. Amazingly enough, the technology behind it all is the same technology that made the wireless telegraph a reality back in 1897: radio communication. Modern WiFi makes use of a hub known as a “router” in order to create areas (known as “hotspots”) in which wireless-enabled devices are able to connect.
Most routers generally use a radio frequency of 2.4 GHz, which produces a large broadcasting range. However, due to the high number of devices that use 2.4GHz, there is a possibility of signal interference. As such, certain routers make use of the 5GHz frequency instead. Although this frequency may be less “crowded,” it has the disadvantage of having a much shorter range. Wireless devices in a WiFi hotspot are able to exchange information across the internet via radio waves, thus keeping you connected even when you’re on the go. The Skydrop Sprinkler Controller is one such wireless device which uses WiFi—in this case it does so in order to keep up to date on local weather information so that it can operate more efficiently.
2. The Cloud
“The cloud” is a term that we use to denote collective, virtual, internet-based storage drives on which users can run applications and store data. This reduces the need for personal or company-owned software or data-storage space. Instead, by using web-based apps and connecting to remote servers, you’ll be able to get all of your work done from anywhere with internet access and on any platform. This is made possible through the use of “back-end” and “front-end” layers. The front-end refers to any aspect that the user interacts with.
Web-based applications, such as email accounts or social networking sites, are all front-end, as are any programs that are used to access off-site data. The back-end refers to the hardware needed to maintain the entire system. This generally consists of collections of networked computers located in security protected “server farms” around the world. These servers are never directly accessed by the user, and are instead only accessed remotely over the internet. This offers the user a great deal of computing power, as well as the flexibility of being able to make use of computer systems without having to maintain them onsite.
3. Machine Learning
Machine learning is basically the next frontier of automation. Whereas most automation tends to center around increased control and accessibility, machine learning ostensibly removes the need for control altogether, by giving the system the ability to learn and adapt on its own. The Nest Learning Thermostat is a very popular example, because it is able to develop its own climate control schedule based upon previous user input. This is done through the use of advanced algorithms which look for statistical patterns and regularities in available data. The term “machine learning” is very broad, and can reference many different systems which use different parameters in order to achieve the ability to alter their own responses based upon incoming and historical data.
4. The Internet
Probably the most influential and significant invention of the last century, the internet is a single advancement which paved the way for countless others. And yet, despite the fact that 40% of the world’s population has an active internet connection, only a very small percentage has any idea how the internet actually works. When you get down to it, the internet is basically just a wire—or, to be more accurate, an interconnected system of wires. Computers that connect directly to these wires are called “servers,” and are able to use the wires to communicate with each other. In order to do this, these servers are assigned specific numbers known as I.P. addresses, which make it possible for the computers to locate each other over the vast network. It is on these servers that the files which you view as websites are contained.
In order to access these files, your computer (which is not connected to the internet) has to go through an “internet service provider,” which is connected directly to the internet, and thus is able to form an indirect connection between your computer and a server. When information is exchanged over the internet, that information is broken down into smaller chunks, known as “packets.” These packets leave their point of origin, and travel along any available network path to arrive at their destination, where they are then reassembled. This allows large amounts of data to be sent without exceeding carrier limitations. And there you have it! Perhaps the largest and most complex device ever constructed, explained in a single paragraph.
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