The Difference Between A Smart System and a Smart System

Abstract clockworkI am starting to get a little bit frustrated about the buzzword ‘smart’. Some people call everything a ‘smart’ system these days while anyone who works with the technology from a technical point of view, knows that there is nothing ‘smart’ about a system that asks you questions, or simply checks what you did. I mean, it is more a logical system than anything smart.

People who build these kind of small systems that get information from a user, one way or the other, and then write a code to analyze that same data and act upon it; like sending out an email, or giving you advice about something you might also be interested in – they know this is not smart at all. It is one of the most basic elements in utilizing and analyzing data. To illustrate this, I will ask you for two numbers, and my brilliantly smart system will tell you the outcome of adding those two numbers. Ta-daaaah! That is the foundation of the thing that people call ‘smart’ these days.

You think that is heavily underrated? Look, I am not trying to dis the work of developers here, not at all. Like mentioned, I build these systems myself as well. But when we are talking about something ‘smart’, it has to live up to that expectation. It is not ‘smart’ that a system can do the obvious. For example, this would be considered smart: you give me 5 pairs of numbers: 1+7 and 4+4 and 2+6 and 3+5 and 10+2. My system might give you a sample of a number combo you would chose next; like 11+3 or 16+8 or 0+8.

Just reading through all these pairs of numbers, you see that if you add or subtract them, they always end up at 8. There is always a logic to be found. And although finding logic in data is not always easy like this example, it is still logic. And logic, by definition, has nothing to do with being smart. It is logic. It makes natural sense.

Something is ‘smart’ if it actually has a sense of intelligence. It can figure out things on it’s own. With these so-called smart systems, the analysis usually is not done with intelligence built into the system, but it is deliberately programmed by a team of developers. The developers were smart, the program, like a good computer, just follows the rules laid out for it.

There are very smart systems out there. And I am not talking about NetFlix’s highly functional movie recommendation, or Amazon’s analysis of your behavior and feeding you relevant information of products you honestly might be interested in. No, I am talking about progress made on systems like Artificial Intelligence, BioTech, even systems like the very hated PRISM of the NSA. Talking about hated systems, a lot of hackers know exactly how to write ‘smart’ systems, creating programs that know how to hide themselves, or mimic other software it comes in touch with, and even so the technology written by security companies to find these threats. Those systems go above and beyond a simple form that analyzes set parameters and just give you a recommendation.

It is the difference between your local bartender pouring you your usual when you come in without saying a word, or monitoring and safeguarding a nuclear power-plant.

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