IoT ruins movies: Arrival

Setting the scene: Arrival and the concept of communication

Arrival is a fascinating film, not least from the perspective of the Internet of Things. It’s all about communication and connection (a very IoT concept) – and not just communication with alien visitors. Equally important is the way that human beings of different nationalities and with different agendas communicate (or fail to communicate) with each other.

While communication is a very human endeavor, there are still ways the IoT can facilitate it. So let’s take a look at IoT-enabled communication, translation, and the idea of ‘connection’ itself.

The movie: Arrival

Arrival is a pretty bonkers, head scratcher of a Sci-Fi film. Released in 2016, it stars Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker. The action kicks off when 12 enormous, hovering, rugby ball-shaped objects appear without warning at distinct locations around the world, prompting a flood of speculation and hysteria as to the nature of these objects and the ‘visitors’ inside.

If you didn’t guess already, yes, they are aliens. As they look a bit like vast octopuses (albeit with seven limbs, not eight) they are soon christened ‘Heptapods’, and introduced to Earthlings clad in protective suits, who nervously try to find out why they’ve come.

The U.S. military enlist Dr Louise Banks, an expert linguist, to translate the Heptapods’ extraordinary language and find out why they have come to Earth. As Louise engages more with the Heptapods’ way of communicating, the lines between past, present and future begin to blur and she experiences disorienting flash-forwards – seeing scenes from her life that have yet to take place. She soon realizes that language can profoundly alter the way we see the world.

How the IoT could ruin Arrival: AI-assisted translation tools

Louise’s main challenge as a translator is the total unfamiliarity of the Heptapods’ language – generally communicated by inky circles and patterns unrelated to the vocalized sounds that accompany them. Without any frame of reference or context, it’s difficult to know where to start. In this situation, an artificial intelligence tool that can identify and analyse patterns would be a huge advantage and might spot links that a human could miss.

Google’s AI translation tool made the news recently when it translated from Japanese directly into Korean with passable success (a feat it had not been specifically programmed to achieve). Reports at the time speculated that the translation tool had developed its own internal language as a means of connecting concepts and words that had not been formally linked.

If the tool’s deep learning cognitive capabilities could cope with this translation, could it also churn out a reasonable rendering of the Heptapods’ language? Machine learning tells us that the more data there is available, the more context is available to the system and the more accurate the resulting translations, so the longer the tool spent with the Heptapods, the more use it would be.

Connection and collaboration – an IoT concept?

Interestingly enough, one of the keys to Louise’s first breakthrough comes from information shared by a team in Pakistan, who realise that the Heptapods’ language is non-linear . That is, it doesn’t flow from left to right. Instead, it’s written in circles – information at the end of a sentence is known right from the beginning, and the entire thought or concept is expressed at once. In other words, Louise’s collaborators help her make a connection that she might have missed on her own.

IBM has long been a champion of collaborative working – especially where the IoT is concerned. You’ve only to look at the Watson IoT Headquarters Munich ‘collaboratory’ to see that. Some of the IoT’s most exciting developments and discoveries are made in partnership with other companies, academics, developers and individuals.

Collaboration and information sharing, while not solely the province of the IoT, are very much at its heart. The IoT is all about connection – connecting objects to the internet and to each other – connecting people with their friends, families and colleagues wherever they are in the world.

Without this idea of connected thinking, things start to get hairy and communication between the 12 host nations starts to break down. China and Russia disconnect themselves from the streamed video feed and make a move to open hostilities with the aliens. It’s only when Louise reaches out to China’s military chief on his private phone line that information is shared once again and crisis averted.

Learn more about the IoT and communication

Learn more about IBM’s IoT communication solutions by visiting our website. If you’d like to see a particular film get the ‘IoT ruins movies’ treatment, let us know in the comments below.

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