When IoTs Become BOTs, The Dark Side of Connectedness

Each day our lives become more connected. We revel in our mastery over our domain as we tap on smart phones to change the heat in our home, see who’s at the front door or remotely start our car on a snowy morning. Connectivity makes our lives easier, and more enjoyable. There is a dark side though to all of this connectedness, if we can control these devices then it’s possible others can as well. Last Friday we saw a harbinger of what can be achieved with Internet of Things (IoT) devices that are poorly designed. At one point Dyn reported 10s of millions of IoT device IP addresses that were sending them huge volumes of bogus network traffic. Dyn is one of the root Name Servers on the Internet. This congestion effectively slowed access to a crawl for east coast US users of Amazon, Twitter, Github, Reddit, and many other popular sites.
The compromised IoT devices all appear to be built using the Swiss Army knife of Embedded Linux, BusyBox, and as such might not be readily patchable. Most of these IoT devices are webcams, smart DVRs, and home routers, but they are just the tip of the 1.2 million device iceberg that is the Mirai Botnet. To put this number in perspective the current active duty strength of the US Armed Forces is nearly the same number, 1.28 million. Image all of our active duty military sitting at keyboards running programs to attack a single website, that’s the power that “Anna_Senpai” the single person behind Mirai wields. Now by contrast Mirai isn’t the largest BOTnet we’ve ever seen, others like Conficker or Cutwall were larger, but this is the first one built entirely of IoT devices.
So how can we cut Mirai off at the knees? Well it’s actually pretty simple, create a unique userid and password on all your IoT devices. All the devices in Mirai were hijacked because the owners of these devices never changed the product’s default userid or password. If you’re still running with the defaults on your home router, and other IoT devices, please change them now. You may be a slave to Mirai, and not even know it.
What if you’re the next target for Mirai, how can you defend yourself? Turns out Dyn wasn’t the first victim, a month earlier Mirai was used to attack Brian Krebs, noted cyber security blogger. Brian Krebs had recently published an article on a company that sold DDoS as a service. At its peak the DDoS assault against his Blog reached 620 Gigabits/second, effectively silencing Krebs for a short time. When attackers are this diverse the most effective solution is often to distribute the attack load across numerous devices and deploy special hardware filtering in silicon at the edge that is designed to mitigate these attacks. In Brian Krebs case he moved over to Google’s “Project Shield” a platform designed to host journalists who otherwise might be silenced by DDoS attacks.


russell_sternRussell Stern has served as President and CEO at Solarflare Communications since 2004. He was formerly President and CEO at JNI Corporation in San Diego, California. Prior to JNI, Stern served as General Manager and COO at Quantum Corporation.

Fluke briefing report: Closing the gap between things and reality

The Internet of things is great, right? I refer the reader to the vast amount of positive literature that is washing through the blogosphere, no doubt being added to even as I write this. At the same time, plenty of people are pointing out the downsides — data security for example, more general surveillance issues or indeed the potential for any ‘smart’ object to be hacked.
All well and good, in other words it’s a typical day in techno-paradise. But the conversation itself is skewed towards the ability to smarten up — that is, deliver new generations of devices that have wireless sensors built in. What of the other objects that make up 98% (I estimate) of the world that we live in?
Enter companies such as Fluke, which earned its stripes over many years of delivering measurement kit to engineers and technicians, from multimeters to higher-end stuff such as thermal imaging and vibration testing. While such companies might not have a high profile outside of operational circles, they are recognising the rising tide of connectedness and doing something about it in their own domains.
In Fluke’s case, this means manufacturing plants, construction sites and other places where the term ‘rugged’ is a need to have, not a nice to have. Such sites have plenty of equipment that can’t simply be replaced with a smarter version, but which nonetheless can benefit substantially from remote measurement and management.
The current consequence, Fluke told me in a recent briefing about their let’s connect-the-world platform (snappily titled the “3500 FC Series Condition Monitoring System”), is that failures are captured after the event. “We have more than 100,000 pieces of equipment and the reliability team can only assess so many. We’ve never been able to have maintenance techs collect data for us, until now,” reports a maintenance supervisor at one US car manufacturer.
That Fluke are upbeat about the market opportunity nearly goes without saying — after all, there really is a vast pool of equipment that can seriously benefit from being joined up — but the point is, the model goes as wide as there are physical objects to manage. And equally there’s a ton of companies like Fluke that are smartening up their own domains, making a splash in their own jurisdictions. Zebra’s smart wine rack may just have been a proof of concept, but give it five years and all wine lovers will have one.
Inevitably, there will be a moment of shared epiphany when all such platforms start integrating together, coupled with some kind of Highlander-like fight as IoT integration and management platforms look to knock the rest out of the market. I’m reminded of the moment, back in the early 90’s, when telecoms manufacturers adopted the HP OpenView platform en masse, leading to possibly the dullest Interop Expo on record.
Yes, the future will be boring, as we default to using stuff that we can remotely monitor and control. As consumers we may still like using ‘dumb stuff’ but for businesses that interface with the physical world, to do so would make no commercial sense. Equally however, such a dull truth will provide a platform for new kinds of innovation.
I could postulate what these might be but the Law of Unexpected Consequences has the advantage. All I do know is, it won’t be long at all before what is seen as exceptional — the ability to monitor just about everything — will be accepted as the norm. At that point, and to make better use of one of Apple’s catchphrases, everything really will be different.

Garmin’s fenix 3 Pairs Form and Function with GPS Watch

For years now, phones have been taking good jobs away from hardworking watches. Sure, we’d occasionally don a stylish timepiece to polish off a professional look, or strap on a rugged stopwatch for our workouts. But when it comes to everyday use, the functional needs of time management were increasingly being met by the phone in our pocket. The traditional wristwatch, a tried and true necessity of our day-to-day lives for decades, appeared to be yet another casualty of the burgeoning smartphone industry.
But this is a trend which is fast reversing as wristwatches get smart, too. As smart technology advances into more and more aspects of our daily lives, devices like the wristwatch get the boost they need to once again be a necessity rather than an accessory.
One Watch for Work and Play

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Where the smartphone fails us is in the need for a rugged wearable workout timepiece. Carrying a phone while jogging or cycling is cumbersome and unnecessary when we have rugged, wearable alternatives. Even better is when that rugged, wearable alternative looks as good paired with office attire as is it functions on the hike and bike trails.
No need for an array of watches to meet your varied needs for timepieces when one watch can serve as both your stylish watch and your workout timekeeper. The Garmin fenix 3 brings form and function together with its fashion-forward design. The 1.2-inch color display is not only easy to read when outside running or cycling, but it makes a bold fashion statement at the office. With a variety of styles available, it’s easy to find a look to suit your tastes.
But not just a looker, the rugged design can stand up to the elements with a protective stainless steel bezel and buttons, and reinforced housing for extra durability. Not to mention, the watch is water-rated up to 100 meters, so you can wear it while swimming, surfing, sailing or snorkeling.
Navigating your Fitness Workout

One of the best functions of the increasingly smart wearables is the ability to track fitness activity as well as receive coaching and feedback. The fenix 3 by Garmin fuses state-of-the art fitness training features with leading GPS technology, providing comprehensive navigation and tracking functionalities to guide you on and off the beaten track. Additionally, the built-in altimeter, barometer and compass provide information on heading, elevation and weather changes. Also, with precise GPS information you can share the details of your trail adventures, as well as plan new adventures using BaseCamp.
When used with the optional heart rate monitor, the watch can provide helpful training data, such as swim profile, running dynamics, running speed, heartbeats per minute and heart rate variability. The watch will also estimate the maximum volume of oxygen you can consume per minute and track changes to your VO2 max, measuring your fitness gains.

Smart Style

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Browse the free apps available for your watch in the Connect IQ store in order to customize your watch face, and add other customizable widgets so you can check the weather or stock market right on your watch. Bluetooth and wifi enabled, you can even receive emails, texts and alerts on your watch while you’re on the trail, or you can ignore all of that and focus on beating your personal fitness goals.

The next information revolution will be 100 times bigger than the Internet

Ambarish is cofounder and CEO of Blippar. You can follow him on Twitter.
Every day I see something I want to know more about, something I can experience at a deeper level, and share with my friends and family. I’m hardly alone in that; the average citizen of any connected country is an avid consumer, seeker, and sharer of information — driving over 5.7 billion Google searches each day. But what happens when you see something you can’t describe? Or when you encounter something you can’t accurately communicate to a friend, let alone a search engine?
Sadly, the platforms and tools of the current age of information aren’t much help when trying to learn about . They restrict our ability to learn more about things we cannot describe with words. And while the Internet has powered a new era of human networking and intelligence, the first information revolution fell short of realizing the potential of technology to provide us with the keys we need to fully unlock the world around us in any given moment. This isn’t a new development. Throughout history, our ability to express curiosity for the world around us has been limited only by the technology available.
In today’s age of information, mobile devices and global connectivity have brought an impressive amount of knowledge to our very fingertips. The Internet and powerful text search tools enabled us to discover nearly everything about anything we can describe with words – any text that can be typed into a search engine. But words cannot express the reality of the entire human experience. That said, for all our advancements, the human experience remains largely driven by sight, as it has for millennia. Unsurprisingly, eyeballs have always had a shorter path to the brain than any other sense. And, our ability to quickly derive information and make decisions based on visual data evolved far before our ability to understand language and invent the alphabet.
When the next information revolution arrives, it must then open the door to the physical, visual world and enable people to quickly discover contextual information about the objects and images around them. The future of discovery will be pointing at things we’re curious about and learning relevant information without even having to ask a question. This revolution will transform how we access shared knowledge and impact nearly every aspect of our lives at home and in the workplace.

Revolution is coming, and soon.

Fortunately (and excitingly), this revolution is going to happen much more quickly than many realize. New technologies like image recognition, wearable hardware, machine learning, and augmented/virtual reality have created an ecosystem capable of bringing us closer to a world in which information isn’t just at our fingertips, but accessible through every shape and form around us.
This is the “Internet on Things” — an environment in which information is autonomously accessed in real-time, immediately upon encountering and interacting with something in the world. Unlike the often referenced “Internet of Things,” technology from the Internet on Things isn’t embedded within an object. Instead, the object itself is the key that allows another platform to find and deliver associated data, unlocking relevant information and experiences.
The potential applications for such technology are undoubtedly exciting. But are we ready? A revolution, after all, is inherently disruptive — in the truest sense of the word, not the buzzword bandied about today’s tech community. While the Internet on Things will undoubtedly have a positive, transformative effect on the lives of average consumers, it will pull the rug out from under a range of established companies and create new business practices in virtually every industry.
To get a sense of the far-ranging implications of a new information revolution, we can consider the massive shift the search business drove in the wake of mainstream Internet adoption. As PCs became cheaper and connectivity improved, millions of consumers needed a better way to access the wealth of information that was now available within their homes and offices. In meeting that need, the search industry established the infrastructure that is today continuing to disrupt everything from print advertising to brick & mortar retail.
The best example of the long-term ramifications of an information revolution is, of course, Google.
Google is a microcosm of innovation and disruption. The company took advantage of a vast “Blue Ocean” opportunity created by new technologies and changing consumer preferences, and rode a tidal wave of change that let it grab an increasingly large share of the technology industry at large. Today that includes long-term ripples of the first information revolution, such as YouTube, drones, and self-driving cars.
Putting aside the potential for a “new Google” to hatch in the wake of the next information revolution (one that would further transform advertising, e-commerce and more), the Internet on Things will also cause disruption through the infrastructure required to support it.
Powering this new model will mean indexing all of the world’s visual data — every object and image — and building machines smart enough to return the right, context-sensitive information to an end user. This will require massive investments in technology — both software and hardware — and will be the first barrier for companies seeking to exploit this dynamic space.
There are enormous opportunities on the horizon, but they come alongside a host of challenges. Today we stand on the cusp of a revolution that will reimagine how we interact with the physical world and disrupt industries in every market across the globe. If we can rise to the occasion and overcome the hurdles in front of us, tomorrow we will stand in a world awash with information, an environment in which every person can acquire relevant knowledge about their surroundings in microseconds. Empowered with such ability, what will humanity accomplish next?

5 ways that support can save the IoT

We’ve all heard the numbers: between 35 billion and 220 billion devices hooked up to the Internet of Things (IoT) by 2020; $1.4 trillion USD in annual sales. The pace of progress is dizzying. Competition frenzied. Opportunities unlimited. And bumps in the road are already showing up.
Approximately 30-40 percent of consumers trying to install home automation run into problems, and it’s twice that rate for first-timers. The majority of all consumer electronics returned for refund are in perfect working order – the devices were just too hard to install or use – and, to top it off, the demand for home automation actually dropped in the first six months of 2015.
The good news? A revised approach to support can stop that backlash. To do so, support has to move away from waiting for things to break and then fixing them, and morph into helping consumers realize value from their technology purchases.
We’ve identified five specific “imperatives” to help the metamorphosis:

  1. Provide support throughout the customer’s entire experience of the product
  2. Design the product with support in mind
  3. Make support a natural part of product usage, not a separate experience
  4. Provide contextual guided assistance to both support personnel and customers
  5. Gather data aggressively and optimize continually, on both the service and the product sides

For a full description of each of these, I invite you to download Support.com’s IoT white paper, “New Rules for a New World: Five Support Imperatives That Can Save the Internet of Things.”
Lee Gruenfeld is Vice President, Strategic Initiatives at Support.com, makers of Nexus® cloud software that optimizes support for professionals and self-service users. He is responsible for long-range technology and service strategies, including the company’s IoT positioning.
Copyright © 2015 Support.com, Inc. Support.com, the Support.com logo and Nexus are trademarks or registered trademarks of Support.com, Inc. in the United States and other countries.

Apple launches ResearchKit to bring your data to medical research

We’re finally getting to some of the promise of connected health with the launch of ResearchKit, a framework announced at the Apple event Monday that allows medical researchers to take advantage of the data gathered by the iPhone to help advance their own diagnostics or studies of disease.

ResearchKit, like HomeKit or HealthKit, is simply a way for researchers to build applications and get data out of the iPhone that might be useful for their own purposes, but it represents a huge opportunity to make it easy to recruit people to participate in giving doctors insights about their ongoing health conditions on a regular basis, as opposed to during monthly office visits.

It also offers a chance to give patients objective tests for diseases such as Parkinson’s as opposed to subjective evaluations based on a doctor’s opinion of how a patient is able to walk. Now, for example, they could speak into their iPhone on a ResearchKit app and give objective data, or take a dexterity test based on tapping. Both were examples given by Jeff Williams, during the presentation as he showed of the first five apps built using ResearchKit that are available today.

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The five apps were focused on five diseases including Parkinson’s, asthma, breast cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. In the case of asthma, the phone would be used in conjunction with environmental tests and connected inhalers, so the GPS coordinates of the places where a person used their inhaler could be linked to the environmental tests. It’s reminiscent of what Asthmapolis does, only with an iPhone and a university.

And that’s what’s important here. I’ve seen a lot of specialized sensor efforts to gather data from patient populations, and specialized efforts to reach out to doctors and hospitals, but if ResearchKit has one thing going for it, it’s that many patients and doctors already use the primary tool they’ll need already — their iPhone. I may not like the platform because it locks people into using an iPhone to collect that data, but one of the biggest hurdles to patient’s adopting new medical technology is that it’s hard to use.

Either the patients or the doctors don’t want to learn how to use it. Downloading an app is much easier than learning how to connect a new device to your Wi-Fi network or toting around a new device. So this approach has a lot of promise. Plus, Williams stressed two really important things at the event. The first was that Apple will not see any of the user data and the second is that Apple will open source ResearchKit, making it available to all platforms.

Thus, what you have here is the beginning of what could become a widely adopted way for people to volunteer their medical data for science or to their doctor in a way that is private and could reach beyond the Apple ecosystem. If that is what comes to pass, ResearchKit might be the biggest thing Apple launches today, even counting a watch. Apple will release ResearchKit next month.

How the internet of things will power the Intelligence Age

We’re currently shifting from the Information Age to the Intelligence Age. The Intelligence Age will be characterized by autonomous communication between intelligent devices that are sensitive to a person’s presence and respond by performing a specific task that enhances that person’s lifestyle.  The shift is driven by the consumer’s desire for efficiency, particularly in connection with everyday tasks that can be easily automated. And the costs associated with connected devices are no longer prohibitive, so companies of all sizes are able to bring products to market.

Consumer desire

Consumers are infatuated with technology that uses connectivity and machine learning to track and analyze everyday habits. They’re willing to let products track their locations, conversations, steps, eating, spending and other behavior because the product creates a seamless experience that couldn’t be achieved otherwise. Google Now, for example, incorporates data from a user’s calendar, web searches and location to present her with relevant information and suggestions throughout the day. [company]Google[/company] Now alerts the consumer to weather, traffic and restaurants nearby and delivers location-based reminders to her phone. It’s a personal assistant that uses data to make a consumer’s life more efficient.

 Cost of innovation

Five years ago, it was extremely expensive to manufacture the necessary parts for the connected devices that exist today. However, the rise of smartphones and tablets that use similar components created an increase in the production of components, which led to a rise in the number of manufacturers and an array of price points for varying specifications or quality of product. This made it feasible for companies to purchase radios, sensors, cameras and other materials at reasonable prices.

Once cost was no longer prohibitive, innovation began, and today even the smallest startups can afford (with the help of online crowdfunding in many cases) to build an idea. Planet Labs, for example, is leveraging access to these components to create the next generation of earth-imaging satellites at a fraction of the cost and time it takes to build traditional satellites. By using basic smartphone components, Planet Labs has launched 71 satellites into orbit in the last 16 months. These satellites produce affordable, real-time images that the government and agricultural industry can use to evaluate geological occurrences. 

Ambient intelligence

Ambient intelligent devices sense a user’s presence, movement and behavior, analyze that data in order to learn about that user, and then make an intelligent decision to perform a task based on the data. For example, Nest learns about a user’s schedule and uses that information to automate climate control. New companies like Zuli, Iotas and Spire are all entering the market over the next six months and will focus on using data to enable their products to make intelligent decisions based on user habits. Zuli is developing a recommendation engine based on a person’s presence in a specific room, for instance, that will allow for adjustment of the room’s temperature, lighting and music.

Market opportunity

As you move through your everyday life, be conscious of moments in which your repetitive actions have limited or no tangible effect on your environment. These moments are examples of when, at some point in the near future, the Intelligence Age will deliver enhanced experiences that turn the mundane into remarkable. These moments are opportunities to develop new products and services that will create the next economic boom in America and worldwide. The companies that capitalize on these opportunities will be the first publicly traded companies to be valued at a trillion dollars.

Mark Spates is head of Logitech’s smart home platform, founder of iotlist.co and president of the Internet of Things Consortium.

Transparency, immediacy and productivity: How IoT will rock your biz

The internet of things when applied to enterprises will take a lot of people out of business, will reduce the profitability of a lot of businesses and it will move massive gains to other businesses, according to Charlie Peters, senior executive vice president at Emerson, the process manufacturing firm. Peters came on Gigaom’s Internet of Things podcast this week (his remarks begin at the 26-minute mark) to share his thoughts on what the shift to a constant flow of information from a variety of places will mean for enterprises, and he didn’t mince words.

“It will be extremely disruptive,” he said. However, he saw that many of those massive gains will be made by startups because they will have the ability to move quickly. It’s a disadvantage to be a current participant because it precludes you from taking certain steps and slows you down when it comes to taking advantage of some of the changes that IoT can offer, he said.

He explained that the internet of things will bring three changes to the business: transparency, immediacy and productivity. Transparency lets customers and people inside the company get more information about what’s happening inside the business, be it about pricing or the status of a machine, while immediacy refers to the time element. That sensor data can flow to a plant operator in real time allowing them to take action the moment something slows down or even before it goes wrong. As for productivity, it’s not hard to see where this could increase productivity by helping automate decisions and let people take the information they are getting in real time and make decisions faster.

The challenge for any business in facing these shifts will be recognizing how to ride these changes while understanding how to maintain profitability. It’s easy to see how too much transparency can turn something into a commodity or how pushing productivity eliminates jobs, that in turn may cause social issues. Peters has this to offer business leaders worried about how to find their way to massive gains as opposed to being shut down during this next wave of innovation.

“Trod carefully and slowly because there’s a lot of land mines as you go through these things,” Peters said. “So you can kind of mess up and let your information which is maybe the key to the whole application out for free and kind of destroy the opportunity, so that’s the trod carefully. The trod slowly is there’s a lot of resistance, either from the other companies you have to partner with or for reluctant end users , where there’s a lot of inertia and until you get some pretty high levels of adoption some of these new business models don’t really work. And that’s where you have to expect to go slowly.”

For more of Peters’ thoughts — and he has a lot of good ones — listen to the rest of the podcast.

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Meet Sens’it, a gadget that lets you play with Sigfox’s IoT network

Consumer gadget enthusiasts might have fawned over the new Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge and the Huawei Watch at Mobile World Congress, but if you are an internet of things geek, the most interesting device at MWC was probably at the other end of the Fira Gran Via at Sigfox’s booth. The French startup, which is trying to build a global wireless network solely for the internet of things, was showing off a pill-shaped device it designed to let IoT developers test out its network.

Called the Sens’it, the device has no screen or keypad, just an LED light that doubles as its only button. Under the hood, there are three sensors: an accelerometer, a thermometer and a sound meter, all of which turn themselves on at intervals to take a snapshot of their surroundings and then communicate that data over Sigfox’s network.

If you’re looking for a practical application here, there isn’t one. On its own, the device doesn’t really do anything. Sigfox intends for the device, which was built by Axible, to be a proof of concept that developers can use to create their own applications. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have a bit of fun with it.

The Sensit alongside the Sigfox web app

The Sensit next to the Sigfox web app

Sigfox has created a web app that allows you to access the data Sens’it collects, and it’s built a few communication hooks that trigger email and SMS alerts when the sensors are triggered. For instance, according to Sigfox head of marketing and communications Thomas Nicholls, you could put the Sens’it in your car and get an alert every time it moves. You could place the device in a cabin that otherwise has no power or internet connectivity and measure temperature and sound levels. The Sens’it also has a button that will trigger an email or SMS alert every time you double-tap it.

Nicholls gave me a Sens’it to play with while I was in Barcelona for MWC (Sigfox’s network isn’t in my hometown Chicago yet), and I made it do a few basic things. I got it to trigger an alert when my plane took off from the airport, and I sent random text messages to myself while I was wandering around. But someone with more time and creativity than me could do a lot more with the device by using IFTTT channels or by tapping into SMS APIs like those offered by Twilio and Nexmo.

An immensely useful application would be the ability to generate a “safety” call to my phone with a double tap of the Sens’it button. It doesn’t matter if there’s nothing but dead air at the other end of the line. It would be a great way to get out of conversation when someone has cornered you — on the show floor at MWC, for instance.

All of this is designed to prove the resiliency and range of Sigfox’s network, which is now live in Spain, France and Russia and will soon go online in the Netherlands and in the U.S., starting in San Francisco. Sigfox uses the Industrial Scientific and Medical (ISM) band used by Z-Wave and ZigBee to create a very low-power, long-range and low-throughput network.

A Sigfox ISM radio module

A Sigfox ISM radio module

That network is entirely unsuitable for a gadget or appliance that needs constant high-bandwidth links, such as a car or a tablet, but it excels in the low-bore connectivity world of the industrial internet. Sigfox connects home alarms, parking space sensors, water meters and even dog tracking collars — anything that only needs intermittent access to the network as well as a cheap radio and service plans.

One of the big selling points for Sigfox, Nicholls said, is its extremely long range. It can cover entire cities with just a handful of base stations, and it can reach far out to remote places that even cellular networks don’t reach. I can attest to that. Upon landing in New York after my plane experiment, I opened up my email and discovered that Sens’it had triggered several more emails 10 to 15 minutes after I took off from the Barcelona airport. That means it was still connecting to the Sigfox while we were at cruising altitude over the Spanish countryside. It only stopped linking up with the network once we hit the open ocean.

Sigfox only manufactured an initial batch of 1,000 Sens’it devices, so it’s not handing them out to everyone. But if you’re a service provider, IoT developer or just a curious maker with an idea, you can apply for a Sens’it here.

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Watch Hilary Mason discredit the cult of the algorithm

Want to see Hilary Mason, the CEO and founder at Fast Forward Labs, get fired up? Tell her about your new connected product and its machine learning algorithm that will help it anticipate your needs over time and behave accordingly. “That’s just a bunch of marketing bullshit,” said Mason when I asked her about these claims.

Mason actually builds algorithms and is well-versed in what they can and cannot do. She’s quick to dismantle the cult that has been built up around algorithms and machine learning as companies try to make sense of all the data they have coming in, and as they try to market products built on learning algorithms in the wake of Nest’s $3.2 billion sale to Google (I call those efforts faithware). She’ll do more of this during our opening session with Data collective co-managing partner Matt Ocko at Structure Data on March 18 in New York. You won’t want to miss it.

Lately, algorithms have been touted as the new saviors, capable of helping humans parse terabytes of data to find the hypothetical needle in the haystack. Or they are portrayed as mirrors of our biases coolly replicating our own racist or classist institutions in code.

Mason thinks of them differently. An algorithm is a method, or recipe, or set of instructions for a computer to follow, she said. “It’s just a recipe you type in to get a consistent result. In some ways chocolate chip cookie recipes are my favorite algorithms. You put a bunch of bad-for-you stuff in a bowl and get a delicious result.”

As for the phrase “machine learning,” which has begun replacing “algorithm” in many of the marketing and Kickstarter pitches I see for connected devices that learn your habits, Mason said that’s no more magical. “It’s a false distinction,” she said. Machine learning algorithms may tend to use statistical methods and techniques, but they are still just algorithms.

Essentially, you’re combining what you know about the properties of a given data set with the recipe you built. For an email spam filter, you might build an algorithm that detects spam by looking for words that commonly appear in spam and then combining that with a statistical distribution of the countries that spam often comes from. Voila, the magic has become mundane — or at least mathematical.

At the end of the day, it’s still just math. Really awesome math.

Updated: This story was updated, to clarify some of the points Mason was making.