Semantic technology in an interconnected world

July 23, 2015 by Nika Mizerski

Sam Rehman is another distinguished keynote speaker of SEMANTiCS 2015. He is currently the Chief Technology Officer of Arxan - a security provider for IT applications. Sam is a proven technology evangelist and leader with over 25 years of experience in both leading product development and professional services at such companies as EPAM Systems and Oracle.

Enjoy a preview of his talk about semantics and the Internet of Things (IoT) by reading this interview:


The Internet of Things (IoT) is more than a buzzword. Could you please describe how fast we are progressing in this area and how semantic technologies can complement this trend?

Sam Rehman: The idea of the industrial internet has been around for a long time. Many companies pushed it. But, it never fulfilled the promise, and the vision stayed locked in industrial manufacturing. In the last few years, something obviously changed. Consumer devices are constantly becoming smarter, and the concept of interconnectivity as embodied in IoT is a logical consequence of this evolutionary process. Actually, IoT is not limited to B2B or B2C. Both worlds rely on products that become more connected through sensors. But, the investment and adoption rate to speed up machine intelligence significantly increased through technological trends in the consumer sector.

The Semantic Web as a concept has also been around for more than a decade and could become a central technological ally to fulfill the vision of IoT. Semantics in its most fundamental function describes relationships in the web. The same network approach can be applied in the physical world. How can my thermostat automatically adapt to the perfect temperature? The machine must know (1) through sensors that I am in the room, (2) what kind of temperature would fit my needs and (3) through learning of temperature records how reliable and precise it can be with its recommendations. We all can come up with our own formats, but the Semantic Web was designed to model relationships -- and this can be easily extended to physical objects as well. When machine intelligence must increase, frictionless data exchange is a precondition -- also something semantic web standards can provide.


In an interconnected world, security issues are more important than ever. Could you share your security concerns with us?

Until recently, the IT security enterprise landscape looked more or less like this: We kept and classified data in servers and built a firewall around it. Smart devices and the rise of IoT, however, have required progressive approaches in data security as we moved from centralized to distributed computing. You have data on your mobile devices, while sensors are physically reachable and can be hacked. A serious and widely distributed security concern affects credit card vendors, for example. The methods to hack pins at the ATM are very sophisticated and evolving: many vendors avoid putting security numbers on the surface due to image recognition technology. As such, pattern recognition of key numbers is much harder to overcome but will also lead to new solutions in order to increase safety. Or, think about the upcoming generation of cars which have their electronic intelligence. Stealing a car will be closely tied to accessing the software system. A much more radical but really realistic security concern is the accessibility of airplanes and its manipulation. This should exemplify the importance and complexity of IT security in an interconnected world. But, security must go hand in hand with innovation. It should not evolve into restrictions. Banking is a very good example that this is possible. Just ten years ago, online banking was very limited in its functions and not trusted due to security concerns. Since high security standards are ensured, the whole banking sector is undergoing a serious business transformation: Customers don`t go to physical branches anymore.Semantic web technologies can be very helpful in creating security solutions, as it also implies the modelling of relationships.


You built your career in big corporations. But, you also have a track-record in the start-up and open data community. How open are established firms to technological innovations? Which role will semantic technologies play?

Big corporations have the cash flow, a customer base, and a known brand. They are stable, which can slow down innovation and threaten the future business success. An important question for them is how to establish a corporate culture that fosters new ideas. Start-ups handle high risk, their drive is strong, and they prove impressively how they can change established businesses. Being agile and adaptive is essential in today’s economy.

As I told before, there are many useful use cases for semantic technologies across industries. There are also many alternative technologies. But, the Semantic Web is mature and backed by a powerful and growing supporter base. I was part of this technological movement from the beginning and know how burdensome it is to go through the process of identifying of what works, what is useful, and so on and so forth. I would rather not go through all of this again. The time is definitely ripe for semantic solutions.

Thank you for the interview. We are looking forward to your keynote at SEMANTiCS 2015