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Transformation through mobility
“Alexa”, my Italian-based sister shouts in a commanding voice, “what is 101.8 degrees Fahrenheit in Celsius?” The sound of her voice makes the round speaker in the room, as well as everyone in it, react. Alexa allows Echo to send a discreet yet distinct flowing rainbow light to show us that she is thinking. We wait anxiously, because my sister has just asked the question to see if her son has a fever and is coming down with the flu. Will this mean we have to cancel our planned family celebration dinner at the five-star restaurant after all?
Driven by our bodies as the user interface, Alexa is an excellent example of how AI and the multidevice age is turning consumers from smartphone-centric users toward a future multi-device based environment, where our senses and bodies control our devices and fuel them with data. In fact, more than half of current users of intelligent voice assistants believe we will use body language, intonation, touch and gestures to interact with tech just like we do with people. And they believe it will happen quickly: 2 out of 3 of these intelligent voice assistant users think this will happen in only 3 years from now.
After spending a week in a Silicon Valley household, our whole family across three generations have adopted Alexa as a member of the family home. Much like the servants in a bygone era, Alexa hears everything we say but only answers when spoken to. Rather harshly, to my notice. My brother who is the owner of the house explains: “She responds best to a very commanding voice, much like a dog”. One would think this would be a design flaw, however, that we know who we are talking to – man or machine – is important. In fact, 50 percent of advanced internet users think not being able to tell the difference between human and machine would actually spook them out. For all of us visitors Alexa quickly became a natural member of the family, very much like a personal servant helping you with your everyday life, reliving you from tedious tasks and small nuisances.
There are of course numerous voice assistants in the market, but what makes Alexa extra interesting is that it is one example of a smart assistant which is built by a shopping company and is not designed to search for anything. In a Silicon Valley household, the advantage of owning an Amazon Echo soon becomes evident. “I am a Prime member”, my sister in law announced proudly. “So I get all that extra service which makes visiting a store really redundant”. Much is because the interactive retail technology with quick deliveries for whatever you order is in place in Silicon Valley, something which is not the case in many other parts of the world.
For a Silicon Valley household it is common to order most meals from takeout, and this is expected to happen also in other parts of the world. Almost half of advanced internet users in large cities in the world, want drones that deliver takeaway food so quickly that the dishes are still hot when they arrive. The household I spent my time in purchases almost everything online. Physically visiting a store is an exception rather than a rule. And advanced internet users expect the infrastructure of retail to be developed rather quickly. In fact, 77 percent think most online retailers will use drones in order to minimize delivery times in only 5 years.
But so far Alexa’s usefulness is only in its infancy. With a smart assistant inside, our devices will come to know us. And this is where the impact of artificial intelligence in everyday life will really take off. As more devices will become smart with intelligent assistants inside, or within their reach, they will learn the preferences of consumers in a whole range of interactions, from ordering takeout to turning off the lights of the Christmas tree. For the visiting children it quickly becomes a sport to check what Alexa can actually do for them, much like they play with Siri at home.
Today, smart assistants are limited as they cannot communicate with the vast majority of devices around them, and their usefulness is within their limited ecosystem. However, there are plans to launch Alexa further on a series of devices this year, relating to the body, or in other relevant devices like cars. Amazon is said to want to place Alexa across as many devices as possible.
What will we do with all this information? Do we really want to talk to our refrigerator every day and order milk for it when it says it is out? Probably not. Rather, personalization is now a pain point for many consumers, meaning we have to think about details we never asked for. We want to take the right choice at the right time which gives us a recognizable and sizable value.
Although it is cool that Alexa can turn on and off the Christmas lights in the three, even the kids quickly tire off that game. Instead we want Alexa to know when to turn off all the lights in the house, or lighting to follow us automatically as we walk through a house. The best smart home assistant is like a genie in a bottle and futurist combined, predicting all of our small needs and quietly solving them without any active engagement of our own.
But we also want to be able to make informed decisions about what really matters to us. We want our assistants to know when to bother us, and when to leave us be. This entails we need to delegate choice to our smart assistants, allowing them to gather our data and use it to learn when to decide for us and when to involve us. The digital assistant with the best aligned consumer interface would be a learning one, combining access to the most relevant types of data from multiple devices and having the best algorithms to process it. Only then would we feel comfortable delegating choices to AI.
This is just one example of how I think artificial intelligence will impact everyday life. I hope it makes you think about a time where your devices know you, and what implications this will have for you and your world!
Want to delve deeper into the impact of artificial intelligence in everyday life? Find out more by checking out Ericsson’s 10 Hot Consumer Trends 2018.
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