Scientists and researchers have been heralding AI as the next big thing for decades now, as from connected cars and smart homes to ambient assisted living (AAL), AI is the common thread that unites many new technologies.
Part of the reason behind this is the widening impact of technology on our daily lives, which has created the perfect storm for new AI-powered solutions.
Analysts have already forecast that the global AI market is poised to reach $57.6 billion in 2021, growing at a compound annual growth rate of over 50 percent between 2016 and 2021 (opens in new tab).
At CES 2018 in January, much of the loudest noise was around AI and associated devices. We saw big-brand-backed home speakers with baked in voice assistants coming via AI-powered product launches from Apple and Google, a significant diversification from Amazon, and commitments from sizeable manufacturers to focus on AI.
Samsung highlighted that all of its 2018 Smart TVs and future TVs would include the company’s AI voice assistant Bixby, already a feature of the company’s high-end Android smartphones. Meanwhile at MWC 2018 in February, Korean competitor LG announced a high-end Android with an AI-powered camera (opens in new tab) - dubbed "Vision AI" - designed to make choosing the ideal settings easier for customers.
This potential simplification of rapidly evolving, complex technology is a potent offering from AI, and comes at a particularly pertinent time, where the pace of technological change has become particularly frenetic.
The coming AI revolution will particularly benefit the elderly, revitalising the AAL market by enabling a universal control method - speech.
The ability to control devices with semantic speech is vital for several reasons, as not only does it remove the need to physically engage with small or hard-to-reach devices, but can also rescue the user from interacting with the hardware, the OS, the UI - negating many technical barriers.
Being guided and assisted through complex setup or troubleshooting procedures removes a key barrier from AAL adoption, while also surmounting the psychological tendency to shun ‘special’ help for the elderly or infirm.
The fact that an AI-powered smart home interface will immediately be useful - and understood - by the grandchildren as well as the older generation makes a positive experience far more likely.
Making that first step into the smart home as frictionless as possible is essential for the longevity of the market as a whole.
Complexity is still a core challenge in the smart home market, and ensuring interoperability and mitigating any current, and future, technical “challenges” like combining different smart speakers is key to success.
While smart speakers such as those from sound systems’ company Sonos integrate existing solutions, like Amazon Echo, the offering is only relevant to those who have both Sonos speakers and Amazon’s Echo. Instead, manufacturers need to ensure that their speakers integrate with all existing solutions, including Amazon, Google, and any that are on the market.
The range of technical standards, the varying interpretations of those standards by manufacturers, and the confusion raised by proprietary technologies all contribute to just how confusing the smart home can be for consumers. By making interoperability a priority, consumers who already have a use case solved are far more likely to follow the ‘upgrade’ path and delve deeper into smart home technologies.
However, controlling data privacy and security raises its head here, as consumers do not want their smart home technology storing their demands, or listening in on their conversations around the house, without having first used the ‘activation’ phrase, such as “OK Google” or “Alexa”, to bring the device to life.
The best way to provide consumers with the required security and privacy is for status data and log files to be deleted automatically after defined periods and/or for no personal data, such as names, addresses and contact numbers, to be saved.
Where passwords are required for local access on a continued basis though, they should be stored only in encrypted form on servers that adhere to strict data privacy and protection laws, which undergo regular, comprehensive security audits.
Going one step further, this wave of innovation will begin to impact on our homes and communities, allowing highly granular sharing of information to improve the quality of resident’s everyday lives, via community IoT.
The advent of community IoT enables the sharing of key data for smoother resolutions to issues such as building faults and breakdowns being easily logged and reported to the relevant authorities, via shared smart sensors or by manual reporting.
If a light is reported as broken or non-functioning, any resident can report it, log the repair request and a technician to fix the problem will be allocated, with all other residents informed so they do not need to also report the same broken light. Where apartments are non-serviced, a premium service with a home emergency repairs provider, could be connected instead, offering greater peace of mind should anything happen.
Another key area for voice-assisted AI is in the connected car, where keeping eyes on the road at all times is essential for safety.
There are many examples of the smart companion reaching into the passenger seat, for example Volkswagen’s Car-Net App Connect, which allows owners to carry out tasks such as deactivating a security system, switching on exterior lights and controlling the home’s heating system using Deutsche Telekom’s Magenta SmartHome app via their vehicle entertainment system.
The power of being seamlessly connected in this manner will increasingly become apparent in community IoT networks, which can already enable the sharing of key data to create smoother, easier resolutions to a whole range of small but niggling issues (the sound of a smoke alarm in a neighbour’s home, for example) as well as more serious questions of community safety.
In short, AI is poised to finally make good on its early promises. In 2018, we will see the power of AI to unify use cases and ‘level up’ human engagement with the nuts and bolts of technology begin to make our everyday lives easier, and in some cases deliver incredibly positive experiences.
While 2018 may not see a complete sea change in the ability of smart technology, it will certainly deliver a considerably enhanced base of integrated devices in the hands of consumers.
- Thomas Rockmann is Vice President, Connected Home (opens in new tab), Deutsche Telekom’s white label smart home portfolio and joint CEO of the group-wide smart home project. He is responsible for all aspects of the Connected Home business and has been instrumental in growing the business and delivering the white label solution with different partners across Europe.