SECTIONS - The Internet of Things
February 11, 2016

The Digital Analog to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Time is money, so it’s no surprise that much of the focus in communications technology these days is on how to save time. Another well-known social construct is Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which psychologist Abraham Maslow created in the 1940s to describe what motivates people and what needs must first be fulfilled in a person to enable them to move up to the next level.

This set of needs can also be applied to the digital world, argues Alcatel-Lucent CTO and Bell Labs President Marcus Weldon in a recent blog. Time savings can be found, as Weldon notes, by “minimizing the time required to execute mundane or repetitive tasks, or by simplifying complex tasks and thereby freeing up time to do other more appealing or productive things.” Right.

No big surprises there. And Weldon points out that 3D printing, which expedites the creation of things; driverless cars, which enable the operator/passenger to focus on other tasks during transport; e-commerce, which makes it easier and faster to acquire goods and services; and well-designed web search functions are all examples of technology solutions that can save time. But Weldon’s discussion about the Maslow’s hierarchy relates to the digital world is more esoteric. It suggests that there’s a similar hierarchy that involves mapping our physical and digital worlds.

The bottom of this new hierarchy involves the need to create digital interfaces to people and/or things in the physical world. That, as Weldon explains, entails powering digital interfaces to drive the detection of events and providing them with the ability to share that data with a related system. Weldon goes on to say that even sleep (in this case, sleep modes) is part of the base level of this new hierarchy, as connected devices need to be able to power down when not in use to conserve battery life.

The next step up involves ubiquitous secure digital connectivity. As you can see, the themes of authentication and security are key at this level, and Weldon notes that is akin to the safety and belonging levels found in Maslow’s hierarchy. Then comes the bit about compute and storage resources that can monitor and manage these new data sets to understand events and prioritize resources accordingly, and above that, the application-specific knowledge and learning level. Weldon says these two layers are the digital equivalent of Maslow’s esteem level – with esteem in this case meaning the assessment of one’s own state of well-being. Atop the digital hierarchy is the contextual analytics and automation layer. This, Weldon says, is akin to the cognitive layer in Maslow’s hierarchy. That’s because this layer represents the ability to find meaning and relationships from data.

“We believe that this layer is unique in that it has inherently ‘human’ characteristics of contextualization, inference and insight based on multi-dimensional similarity,” Weldon says. “This is the domain of artificial intelligence systems that will manage to mimic or replace humans, but also of new augmented intelligence systems that will seek to assist human thinking in multiple dimensions.”

Edited by Ken Briodagh

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