Artificial intelligence creeps into daily life

December 15, 2016 by Sophie Estienne
Facebook CEO and chairman Mark Zuckerberg envisions a software system inspired by the "Iron Man" character Jarvis as a virtual butler managing his household

Mark Zuckerberg envisions a software system inspired by the "Iron Man" character Jarvis as a virtual butler managing his household.

The Facebook founder's dream is about , which is slowly but surely creeping into our daily lives, no longer just science fiction.

Artificial intelligence or AI is getting a foothold in people's homes, starting with the Amazon devices like its Echo speaker which links to a personal assistant "Alexa" to answer questions and control connected devices such as appliances or light bulbs.

Analyst Carolina Milanesi of the research firm Creative Strategies said that "2016 was the year about raising awareness, and exposing consumers to the idea of AI in a more mass market way."

Milanesi said it may take time for the technology to fulfill its potential, noting that companies need "a strong hook" to bring large numbers of consumers into this world.

Consumer Intelligence Research Partners estimates that Amazon has sold more than five million of its connected speakers such as Echo since 2014, in a market now heating up with competition from Google Home, and others likely in development.

Google meanwhile is also using its AI prowess to make smartphones smarter—its Allo messenger can, for example, suggest a meeting or deliver relevant information during a conversation. Among other tech giants Apple has been quietly ramping up the capabilities of its Siri digital assistant and Facebook its Messenger platform.

Driving the car

AI is also the key "driver" for autonomous vehicles, around which Google, Uber, automakers and others have expanded efforts in the past year.

Graphic on major developments in artificial intelligence this year.

And Amazon is seeking to put AI to work in the supermarket—testing a system without cash registers or lines, where consumers simply grab their products and go, and have a bill tallied by artificial intelligence.

Stanford University AI researcher Alexandre Alahi, said he sees a future "where intelligent machines are omnipresent in our daily lives."

"We will see robots in the home and (powering) self-driving cars, but also in railway stations, hospitals and elsewhere in cities," he said.

This could include delivery robots or devices to help mobility for blind people, he noted.

Safety, health, productivity

These technologies "will help improve our safety, our health, and our productivity," Alahi said.

A system of sensors for example, can monitor a hospital patient 24 hours a day, and may allow elderly people to remain at home with better medical surveillance.

These systems rely on powerful computers which can crunch, analyze and interpret data.

One example of this comes from IBM, whose Watson supercomputer systems are offering "cognitive health" programs which can analyze a person's genome and offer personalized treatment for cancer, for example.

The Amazon Echo links to a personal assistant "Alexa" to answer questions and control connected devices

Meanwhile Google recently announced it had developed an algorithm which can detect diabetic retinopathy, a cause of blindness, by analyzing retina images.

While Alahi said AI systems designed to recognize and interpret data from images "are close to human performance," more work needs to be done to improve "social intelligence," or understanding the subtleties of our everyday decisions.

A self-driving car, for example, can easily navigate around Google's home base in Mountain View, California, but may have more problems around the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, where driving behaviors are less predictable.

Alahi said robotics needs to understand the unwritten social behaviors used in daily life, which can vary from one culture to another.

A robot, for example, might cut through a group of people in a train station to find the most efficient path, unknowingly violating social rules on personal space.

"There are situations where technology is not yet capable of understanding human behavior," said Alahi, who is part of a research project using a robot, with the aim of understanding pedestrian behavior.

These kinds of robots may be technological marvels, but they also raise fears that they could get out of control, concerns heightened by movies like "Terminator."

"It's all scary, but this is going to take years to happen, and by the time it's done, we'll be ready for it," said Milanesi.

Explore further: Tech giants race for edge in artificial intelligence

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not rated yet Dec 15, 2016
Bring back Microsoft clippy, the talking paperclip!
Yes, we keep hearing this crap every 5 years or so...
not rated yet Dec 17, 2016
Have had the Echo since launch and the Home for four weeks. I have found the Home to handle majority of our use cases better than the Echo. With the exception ordering stuff.

So Thompson put up 60 points. "hey google what is the most kobe scored in a game"? Echo can not do this. Watching a rally and all the people have an acronym on their shirt. "hey google what does X mean" and Google answers.

But it is the inference with music that is where Home really shines. There are times with the Echo you have to do a quick google search but with the Home you can fine what you are looking for with very little and there are situations where the Google Inference is better than a human.

So say "hey google play gwen sting bottle" and Sting and Gwen Stefani starts playing.
The last big difference is the Chromecast as output. This is a big thing for us. So wife says "hey google play SNL highlights on TV and the TV turns on, input set and SNL highlights from YouTube start playing.

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