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Making Sense of Smartness in the Context of Smart Devices and Smart Systems

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Careless usage of the term smart in today’s world leads to wondering whether it means anything beyond involving a currently impressive application of IT. This paper characterizes smart and smartness in relation to describing, analyzing, and designing smart devices and systems. Examples of nominally smart devices and systems and principles that support thinking about smartness lead to a definition of smartness in the context of devices and systems. The definition leads to a classification matrix for smart capabilities organized around four categories: information processing, internal regulation, action in the world, and knowledge acquisition. Each category includes a set of separate capabilities that can be described on a continuum from not smart to somewhat smart to extremely smart based on the definition of smart. A concluding section describes how this multidimensional view of smartness can be applied in thinking about smartness while describing, analyzing, and designing devices and systems.

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Correspondence to Steven Alter.

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Appendix: Searching for a Relevant Definition of Smart

Appendix: Searching for a Relevant Definition of Smart

As noted in the body of the text, a search of Google Scholar for various “smart” things (e.g., smart phones, smart cities, etc.) or intelligent things (e.g., intelligent machines, intelligent databases, etc.) did not come close to producing a consensus definition that is useful here. Searching the eLibrary of the Association for Information Systems, which includes leading IS journals and proceedings of major IS conferences, seemed an appropriate next step.

A search on “smart” on March 7, 2019 across the eLibrary found 4957 articles that used the term smart (759 in 2018; 671 in 2017; 448 in 2016; 426 in 2015; 342 in 2014; 365 in 2013, between 115 and 282 per year during 2007–2012; between 70 and 98 during 2000–2006; much lower numbers in earlier years). The 759 articles from 2018 demonstrated the same range of diversity as the examples in the introduction. For example, articles whose title included the term smart used that term in conjunction with the following topics: smart application development, smart cars, smart cities, smart classrooms, smart contracts, smart devices, smart glasses, smart grids, smart homes, smart locks, smart objects, smart robotic warehouses, smart service systems, smart spaces, smart speakers, smart systems, smart tourism, smart toys, and smart watches.

A more focused search looked for “smart” in the abstract of articles in the eLibrary. It found 442 articles (114 in 2018; 87 in 2017; 44 in 2016; 38 in 2015; 34 in 2014; 24 in 2013; 28 in 2012; 15 in 2011; 15 in 2010; 13 in 2009; 8 in 2008; and four or fewer in previous years).

The titles of this more manageable set of documents led to identification of papers that seemed potentially relevant for defining smartness. Many of those papers seemed valuable and interesting, but did not define smartness in a way that is useful here. For example, an article about smart technology and European standards (Jakobs 2017) said “basically, the ‘smartness’ emerges from the incorporation of ICT-enabled capabilities into ‘traditional’ applications.” Similarly, a paper presenting a taxonomy of smart elements for designing effective services for smart cities (Pourzolfaghar and Helfert 2017) said that “a smart city is an innovative city that uses … [ICT] and other means to improve citizens’ quality of life and efficiency of the urban operation and services.” The taxonomy of elements included many components, just a few of which include interoperability, usability, availability, runtime monitoring, transaction services, principles, and standards. Hirt et al. (2018) cite the following definition of from Barile and Polese 2010), “Smart service systems are “service systems that are specifically designed for the prudent management of their assets and goals while being capable of self-reconfiguration to ensure that they continue to have the capacity to satisfy all the relevant participants over time.” That type of definition expresses expectations that seem far removed from many of the examples in this paper’s introduction.

Two articles came closest to providing hints for a definition that could be used here. The first article was Kaisler et al. (2018), which defines smart object as “an object representation that is computationally aware – meaning self-defining and self-reflecting, and, possibly, self-modifying/self-adapting. … Smart objects (1) embed one or more computational models that enable the associated data to dynamically respond to CRUD (Create, Read/Retrieve, Update and Delete) operations; (2) enable higher level actions such as aggregation, negotiation, or collaboration with other smart objects; and (3) exhibit intelligent behavior.” None of the examples mentioned in the introduction satisfy this definition, although most perform some type of information processing.

The second article was Püschel et al. (2016), which presents a multi-level taxonomy of smart things “that comprises ten dimensions structured along the architectural layers of existing IoT stacks (i.e., the thing itself, interaction, data, and services).” The taxonomy subdivided those four layers into 10 dimensions: Thing (action capabilities sensing capabilities), interactions (thing compatibility, partner, multiplicity, direction), data (data usage, data source), and service (main purpose, off-line functionality). The taxonomy is much more associated with Internet of Things than with other aspects of the “smart” world, such as artificial intelligence, self-control, and knowledge acquisition.

Ultimately, ideas about smart service systems from Medina-Borja (2015), an editorial in the journal Service Science, which is not included in the eLibrary, provided the best hint at a possible direction for thinking about a notion of smartness that covers the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, and the smart things mentioned in the introduction. That definition is mentioned in the body of the text.

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Alter, S. Making Sense of Smartness in the Context of Smart Devices and Smart Systems. Inf Syst Front 22, 381–393 (2020).

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