Hey Siri, fix my Mac..

Apple has a unique opportunity

Apple, IBM, Watson, OS X, macOS, iOS, Mac, predictive analytics
Credit: Jonny Evans

Imagine a Mac that told you when it was developing a problem. A Mac that could identify a rogue app demanding too much memory, or a component displaying symptoms that often come before it fails.

Predictive maintenance

This isn’t such a far-fetched reality, not only this, but it’s one that would be a finer and more focused expression of machine intelligence than asking your fridge to order you a liter of milk.

This is already here in some industries, it even has a name, it’s called, “Predictive Maintenance”, and I think it should be woven inside of every Mac.

Apple already has diagnostic and recovery tools built-inside Macs, and receives huge quantities of anonymized crash reports. This means Apple already has the data it needs to put through data analytics systems in order to identify failure trends, patterns, and symptoms. All it needs to do is connect this to the Macs (or iOS devices) you already use, and create some incredibly complex and hard to develop algorithms (the difficult bit).

Anomaly alerts

Engineers have relied on anomaly alerts for years. It's how they catch problems quickly. The evolution of connected devices offers new ways to deploy anomaly alerts, enabling a future in which machines, including Macs, can predict when they are likely to need maintenance.

In case you think this is a far-fetched idea, let me reassure you that it isn’t. Even Coca-cola uses this kind of connected intelligence to keep its vending machines in good shape. These are capable of letting tech support know they have identified potential symptoms of a problem before a problem takes place.

There are many other examples:

  • ThyssenKrupp Elevator has developed a predictive monitoring system that gathers data from a range of sensors inside lifts in order to deliver things like maintenance alerts. This means engineers know when a lift is likely to fail and can schedule maintenance before it does, increasing up time.
  • Ford has developed algorithms that monitor vehicle data in order to identify when the brakes need to be maintained, warning drivers with a text message when they do.
  • Hadoop developer Hortonworks is collaborating with HARMAN Infotainment to create predictive software for vehicles.

“Better predictive maintenance using IoT can reduce equipment downtime by up to 50 percent,” say McKinsey & Co.

Machine intelligence and Macs

We all want to maximize the amount of time our equipment works correctly, and this is very much the case when it comes to Macs. A predictive maintenance system for the platform would be great business for Apple, enabling the company to refine its tech support coverage and enabling customers to keep their Macs working effectively for longer.

This could even be a business opportunity for the company. Imagine if such predictive maintenance were part of your Apple Car package? Not only would you be aware of a problem before it became a crisis, but your Mac could conceivably file a maintenance request with the company automatically, and tech support could then arrange a pick up, replacement and repair schedule with you.

Apple has come under a lot of pressure from some in the media who seem to think the company hasn’t made a significant investment in artificial intelligence.

A unique opportunity

I’d argue that Apple has made such investments, and I’d point to things like the new Memories feature as evidence that its platforms already support the kind of intelligence that could in future support predictive maintenance systems for Apple products.

Apple is perhaps unique in that it owns the whole widget, the hardware and the software, which means it has great insight into how its products run, and what kind of symptoms usually indicate a looming problem. This unique insight means Apple has a big advantage where it to choose to create its own machine intelligence for predictive product diagnostics. Introduction of such a service would be a massive benefit to Apple users, and a unique selling point other manufacturers would find it hard or impossible to easily match.

Apple has a unique opportunity, and while meeting that opportunity is not at all trivial, the company has the R&D budget and the technical knowledge to meet the challenge – a company that can develop the world’s fastest mobile processor can certainly develop the smartest devices. I can’t wait until I can ask Siri for an up-to-date system diagnosis report.

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