Harnessing the Power of Artificial Intelligence

Opinion

Voice recognition lets people benefit from artificial intelligence (AI) almost without a second thought – and this technology is increasingly popular. Amazon had record sales of its Alexa device last year, with millions sold over the holiday season. Google reports that since last October, it has sold at least one Google Home smart speaker every second. And at CES 2018—the world’s largest tech event—we saw a host of digital assistants that use a voice interface, from Microsoft’s Cortana to Baidu’s DuerOS and Samsung’s Bixby.

This trend will continue into 2018. We forecast U.S. sales of these devices this year will almost double in revenue from 2017, reaching $3.8 billion. We’ve also seen digital assistants in pop culture—showing how integral to our daily lives they’ve become. Whether it’s a Super Bowl commercial or an Oscars app that quizzes Alexa users on Hollywood trivia and makes predictions, we see not only the ease of use of voice assistant-enabled devices, but also the beginnings of their entertainment and cultural potential.

As fun and helpful as these devices are, we are still at the early stages. AI—whether in speaker, vehicle, or robot form – has already started to revolutionize the home, offering users unprecedented levels of connectivity and convenience. AI was one of the hottest trends of CES 2018. The most innovative companies displayed the latest in AI—from virtual assistants and companion robots to smart home tech and smart speakers.

We saw dozens of different devices that can connect to Amazon Alexa and create an entire ecosystem of smart technology. Kohler, for instance, developed an Alexa-compatible mirror that allows users to adjust the lighting with voice commands. LG’s ThinkQ smart refrigerator completely changes the kitchen as we know it, using Alexa and wide-angle cameras to let you know the fridge’s contents remotely from the store. These and other interconnected smart home devices are increasing in popularity: according to the Consumer Technology Association’s 2018 U.S. forecasts, sales of smart home units will reach almost 41 million units, a 41 percent increase over 2017.

Beyond added convenience and connectivity, these technologies save energy. Smart devices can sense whether appliances need to remain on and switch them off or adjust settings accordingly. A CTA study found that increased use of this technology could save up to 100 million tons of CO2 emissions as well as reduce total residential primary energy consumption by up to 10 percent.

In addition to saving energy, smart technology can keep us safe. Smart locks allow us to determine who can enter our house when we’re not home, and smart smoke alarms can direct us to the source of a potential fire. Devices including smart security cameras can use AI and voice technology to help us monitor our homes—and the wellbeing of our loved ones—remotely.

This technology helps us manage one of the biggest health crises of our time: an aging population. According to the Population Reference Bureau, the number of people over age 65 in the U.S. will skyrocket between now and 2060, increasing from 46 million to 98 million. Caring for our parents and grandparents will require more of our time and dedication—but providing that support won’t necessarily require our proximity, given the capabilities and connectivity AI offers.

Fortunately, innovators have begun to develop solutions that can help manage this population shift. ElliQ, a robot created expressly for senior citizens, can send reminders about appointments, message family and friends, respond to voice, and turn on music. A growing number of devices can help younger generations monitor and improve their own health. For example, HEKA, a Delaware-based company, has developed an AI mattress that can improve sleep by monitoring and adjusting to people’s shapes and positions as they rest.

I’m excited to explore the possibilities of these advancements with others next month at Xconomy’s Robo Madness, a robotics conference that brings together the entire AI ecosystem. Together, we can harness the power of innovation and AI to create a society that is happier, healthier, safer—and more connected to loved ones and each other.

Gary Shapiro is president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), the U.S. trade association representing more than 2,200 consumer technology companies, and author of the New York Times best-selling books, Ninja Innovation: The Ten Killer Strategies of the World's Most Successful Businesses and The Comeback: How Innovation Will Restore the American Dream. Follow @GaryShapiro

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