My Week At CES: AI With Everything

CES. The tech event of the year. 100,000 tech fanatics, 32,949 tech buyers, and 7,545 journalists each jostling to see exactly what the next twelve months are going to be serving up on a silver motherboard. So, had the future arrived? My week at CES was bitter sweet. Here’s why.

Virtual Reality (is what I’m looking for… and I might just have to keep on looking)

I’ll admit it. I was pretty excited at the prospect of what would be happening in the realm of VR. But what was happening was very little – quite unlike the wizardry VR and augmented reality offerings I imagined, CES seemed to present product after product of affordable VR headsets, each were hoping to get in on the Oculus/HTC action (take Lenovo as a typical example). Whilst there were a few start-ups excitedly announcing their VR/AR prototypes, it’s a sad fact of technological life that without a funding miracle, they’ll likely come to little more than the prototypes of their present form.

AI, next. Onwards and upwards. I thought.

Artificial Intelligence (Artificial being the operative word)

ces3

‘AI’ appeared everywhere at CES. Every product, every gadget, everywhere – from self-rocking robot crib Snoo bassinet, to the sleep habit-tracking Beddit Bed.

But, whilst it was all pretty smart, it was also a long way of true AI. Take the house bot Kuri – the makers of this robot have bestowed Kuri with the tagline of being “insanely cute with some serious technology”. And this little guy can do all sorts of things – he can recognise voices, avoid taking a tumble down the stairs and respond with sounds, flashy lights and emotive eyes. Impressive specs, innovative tech – but the purpose escapes me.

Right now, I can’t help but feel that all too many are rushing to sate the consumer appetite for AI novelty. This artificial intelligence is all feeling a little artificial – failing abjectly to actually progress onto machine learning, and authentic AI that truly integrates with every element of our lives – helping us live better, healthier and assisting us to advance.

Just like a kid a Christmas who didn’t get that toy he’d set his heart on, I’m left drawing on feelings that range from mild disappointment to stamp-my-feet, all-out frustration.

We’re missing a trick here. And worse still, consumers are soon going to wise up to the fact that ‘AI’ really means nothing more than pretty damn smart, but not quite intelligent.

AI, Cars and going back to the future

ces2

Concept cars designers have long since seemed to root around in a generic imaginary scrap yard of parts and features – the hidden wheels that are so hidden it seems to suggest that soon, our dreams of Total Recall hover cars are going to become reality; those side lifting doors that are most definitely obligatory and strangely Back to the Future Delorean-esque (seriously, if they didn’t take off in the 80’s, I’m really not sure why they would now).

But asides from questions about style, do they have any substance – do they provide a subtext for what’s to come?

Showcasing their wears were Nissan, Audi, BMW, Faraday Future and just about every car manufacturer under the sun (a sun that notably has failed to start solar powering our cars – as was suggested by Ford’s concept car back at CES 2014).

Features included BMW’s floating displays; Faraday’s impressive 1000 horse power beast; and Nissan’s ability to grab control of a car where dangerous circumstances arise (with a special nod granted to Mercedes-Benz, who demoed their autonomous drone-like delivery van).

 

But with so much hustle and bustle at CES, I wonder whether they have any inkling that driverless cars may well be much ado about nothing. A recent survey found that consumers still remain uncertain as to whether they want anything more than car tech that can park for them, stop an accident or prevent their car from being stolen.

Perhaps we simply don’t trust tech in this way – if so, the question is, will we ever? Consumer trust hasn’t been helped by the much publicised Tesla fatality, although it must be said that less attention has been paid to the Tesla owner saved by his own car (that’s despite the autopilot not even being engaged).

In any event – all this may well be by the by. Even if there is appetite, there are other stumbling blocks too. As Kevin Clark chief executive of Delphi (a company launching its own concept car at CES), points out:

“The reality is that the tech exists today… the biggest problem for the manufacturers is the cost, legal and liability responsibilities.” – Kevin Clark chief executive of Delphi

 

It seems then that the realm of driverless cars are potentially as unwanted and challenged as AI gadgets are lacking in actual AI. And that, is why my week at CES was bitter sweet – so much promise, so little delivered. But there’s always next year, right? Tell me what you think

Google Pixel: The iPhone Killer?

This week’s news is all about Google’s Pixel: the new phone from Google – and from what i’ve seen so far they have pretty much nailed it! After a few disappointing weeks of tech news – Snap Inc. and Apple, I’m looking at you – we finally seem to be seeing some real innovation and progress in the mobile sector. So, what’s on offer?

AI Is King

Google Assistant is the Pixel phone’s USP, and they have placed it at the heart of the user experience. In a highly competitive market, where Apple and Samsung dominate (but neither have been able to crack the integrated and intelligent personal assistant), AI is the new battleground.

Earlier this year, I wrote about the competitive advantage of AI incorporation, and how this technology will eventually be used to interlink many products from a single company. It now looks like Google is positioning itself to do exactly that, with Pixel Phone and Home Speaker working in unison to bring the Google Assistant to life.

Competitive Advantages

Google Assistant can hold a conversation, in which one question or command builds on the last, rather than dealing with each request in isolation – a point which has caused the most devoted Siri fans much frustration over the years (and leading to situations like this).

It also draws on Google’s Knowledge Graph database, which links together information on more than 70 billion subjects, and has been in use for four years, giving immediate access to a massive amount of useful information.

Google have also addressed one of the biggest achilles heals with the Pixel Phone: it will come with the latest, previously unreleased Android version as standard, and will automatically update to the latest OS. This is one very clear benefit of controlling the vertical

One-Up on Apple

Some of the Pixel’s features have been included in a clear attempt to overtake Apple’s progress and fill in where the iPhone fell short. Almost all the high-profile fails reported with the iPhone 7 have been addressed in the latest Google Announcement, with the launch marketing having a bit of fun at Apple’s expense.

  • Google will also provide a ‘Quick Switch Adapter’ to import iMessage data, photos, videos, contacts and other data directly from Apple’s iPhone, in a move which clearly targets disenfranchised Apple users.
  • Every photo or video the user takes with the phone’s highly-rated cameras are automatically saved in Google’s cloud for free, at full resolution – for life – a clear UX win for Google.
  • The Pixel incorporates premium product design & iPhone-matched price points, which are simply a necessity for any product hoping to compete at the top end of the mobile device market.
  • Finally, the Pixel includes both a flush camera lens and a standard headphone jack – which may not be top of the list for every early adopter, but I know for a fact that it certainly is a sore point for some devoted Apple fans!

 

The Google Hangover

Last week, I discussed some of Google’s rougher experiences – delving into the downward spiral that was Google Glass. The truth is that some of these issues will still be in the back of user’s minds. Google know this and have hired some serious big-hitters to drive this new hardware train. However there is work to do to help consumers overcome privacy concerns surrounding the incorporated use of AI technology and the automatic use of cloud storage.

Well Played, Google!

In my view, a lack of effective competition in the linked hardware & software consumer electronics market has allowed Apple to get lazy & complacent. The below-par iPhone 7 announcement was a spectacular display of a missed opportunity and this has played nicely into Google’s hands.

Google’s range of new hardware is the first real attempt to challenge the status quo, and by putting AI (Google Assistant) at the heart of their products, they are betting big that this is the new consumer electronics battle ground. And, while the launch of Google Home is clearly aimed at taking down Amazon (with their Alexa Home AI) as well as Apple, announcing  both a home hub and a mobile product is a very strong move to dominate the consumer user experience

They arrived fashionably late to the mobile hardware party, but by taking their time, they have been able to find solutions to almost every problem currently facing mobile device users – well played, Google! I’m ditching my iPhone and definitely buying a Pixel when they launch on 20th October. What about you?