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Smart socks ensure Big Data

Geschreven door Ben van Lier - 12 november 2012

Ben van Lier
I walk from my car to the office entrance. Just before the glass door opens, my telephone vibrates. The display shows ‘Blacksocks’. “Aha,” I think, “my daily analysis”. I pick it up and hear: "Congratulations, Mr Van Lier. In the light of our advice from last week you have adjusted your walking habits and therefore your socks will last two weeks longer. Will you have them washed tonight?"

Is this fiction, or reality? Fiction, you would think. But this is not impossible. In recent weeks, a number of blogs and articles have appeared about the ‘smart socks ’ from the Blacksocks company. There is an NFC-chip in the textile, which can trace the socks. The technology also helps to keep the right socks together and to monitor wear and tear. If the colour of the socks fades or one or both socks can no longer be found, the customer will then get a new pair.

Big Data

If this new combination of a traditional product with new technology is a success, Blacksocks can expect an explosion of data. The enormous amount of data produced by objects that are connected with the internet is sometimes called ‘Big Data’. The question for Blacksocks is how information about socks and customers can be combined, selected and followed, so that it contributes to the company’s objectives – the selling of as many socks as possible.

I use the word ‘data’ in Buckland’s description, who defines it in an article in the Journal of the American Society for Information Science as “the plural form of the Latin word datum, means things that have been given. It is therefore an apt term for the sort of information-as-thing that has been processed in some way for use. Commonly data denotes whatever records are stored in a computer” (June 1991:353). In this case, the consumer supplies data to Blacksocks and in return receives an app and service provision.

The ‘Big’ prefix was introduced a number of years ago by IBM as a marketing term. Steve Lohr recently described the development of the term ‘Big Data’ in the New York Times (August 2012). For Lohr, Big Data comes down to: “applying the tools of artificial intelligence, like machine learning, to vast new troves of data beyond that captured in standard databases. The new data sources include Web-browsing data trails, social network communications, sensor data and surveillance data”.

Everyday objects connected with the net

‘Big Data’ therefore only exists by combining everyday objects, such as socks, with technology, and connecting it with the internet. This allows objects to be able to exchange information on a large scale, which leads to an explosion of new data. Internationally this data coming from objects and sensors is seen as the basis for the creation of Big Data.

The World Economic Forum says concerning this: “A flood of data is created every day by the interactions of billions of people using computers, GPS devices, cell phones, and medical devices. Many of these interactions occur through the use of mobile devices being used by people in the developing world, people whose needs and habits have been poorly understood until now. Researchers and policy makers are beginning to realize the potential for channelling these torrents of data into actionable information that can be used to identify needs, provide services and predict and prevent crisis for low-income populations”. The analysis of big data to allow for companies such as Blacksocks to find the right people for the correct socks is therefore no easy task and will demand much research and development.

Dr. Bertlmann´s socks

However, the discovering and analysing of Big Data is not something completely new. For example, at CERN in Geneva they have decades of experience with this. One of the scientists who worked there was John S. Bell. He wrote a now famous article, entitled: Bertlmann’s socks and the nature of reality (1981). At the start Bell wrote: “Dr. Bertlmann likes to wear two socks of different colours. Which colour he will have on a given foot on a given day is quite unpredictable. But when you see the first sock is pink you can already be sure that the second sock will not be pink. Observation of the first, and experience of Bertlmann, gives immediate information about the second.”

Bell therefore assumes that, based on the specific time and place associated with the observation of the sock, combined with the experience of the specific behaviour of dr. Bertlmann, it can be predicted which other socks he will wear in the future. This and other knowledge developed by CERN can be applied in the development of innovative information services concerning the smart sock and other objects which are part of the Internet of Things.

Over Ben van Lier

Ben van Lier works at Centric as an account director and, in that function, is involved in research and analysis of developments in the areas of overlap between organisation and technology within the various market segments.