The Rise of the Machines

Over recent times great advances seem to have been made with the technology behind Intelligent Personal Assistants like the Amazon Alexa however this has been brewing for at least 15 years since search improved from knowledge based and semantic to Artificial Intelligence using natural language.  Only now however are we entering a period where this technology can be leveraged across numerous product lines offering a seamless experience.

One of the starting points on this journey dates back to 2002 when Google launched “Google Voice Search” which enabled users to access the internet via voice commands and later in 2007 True Knowledge launched its Knowledge Answer engine.  In 2011 we saw the launch of Siri by Apple and in 2012 True Knowledge launched a major new product called Evi which was an artificial intelligence program which could be communicated with using natural language (The company was acquired in 2012 by Amazon and the technology became a key part of the Amazon Alexa assistant which debuted in the Amazon Echo).  Over the next few years the full set emerged which we know today (Google Now 2012, Microsoft Cortana and Amazon Alexa in 2014 and Samsung Bixby in 2017) until the technology found a new home outside of the mobile handset.

The issue with the Intelligent Personal Assistant technology however was that it was handset dependant so you were reliant on carrying your mobile device when you needed that injection of inspiration.   One solution was the creation of an always on device which could be placed in open spaces like the Amazon Echo and Google Home.  These however are also reliant on placement but if situated in a prominent place in the house with them constantly listening for command words they certainly can start to bridge the gap although instead of being a mobile device with software loaded they are now a speaker.  So where will this technology go next?  Alexa is already being placed in alternative objects like a lamp (GE Sol is launching the C which is a lamp with Alexa built in – although Dyson may be interested in the similarities to the Cool Desk Fan) and numerous other devices which are Alexa compatible like the Ecobees thermostat are entering the market.  Amazon is also launching a new device called the Amazon Look which also has a camera although initially I am sure there will be concerns on its placement and if this could be hacked like a PC camera to spy on you.  The premise however is that you can take selfies or videos and one use could be to show you how you look in an outfit or for security.

The Innovation is also not coming just from the usual suspects either and the Israel-based Intuition Robotics is developing the virtual assistant specifically for the elderly called ElliQ to deal with users who may experience social isolation and physical inactivity where it will suggest a walk when the weather is nice or say when it’s time to take medication.

Even though the technology is now moving at a tremendous pace there is still one hurdle to overcome before it migrates to the mainstream; verification.  Because the devices are located in open spaces, constantly on and linked to a user’s account with no bio-metric verification unless you live alone you would not want to link the devices to sensitive information like financial or health as anyone could request information.  However once voice verification is cracked the uses will be endless and in addition to the previous what if you could connect to wearables, specific IOT devices and pay for things from nominated accounts, everyone would want one.  This day will not be far away though so dust off those Business Cases and think of the possibilities.

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Don’t just follow the Innovation, watch out for the aftershock

As technology continues to evolve and the realisation that those pesky unicorns are not so easy to find, most organisations are now starting to embark on a digital journey to embrace what the tech companies have been doing for years.  You can see this manifested in numerous industries where more announcements are being made at technology events like CES than the traditional venues.  One recent example is the automotive industry where in 2017 more Innovation was announced at CES (The Consumer Electronics Show) than their traditional venue of the Motor Show.  These disruptive vanilla applications will certainly ripple across the whole ecosystem so it is important to not just “look down” at the specific Innovation but also look laterally for the “aftershock”. If we look at a few examples it will become apparent how any Innovation can disrupt all industries.

Transport – This may be a way away however just think if there were autonomous cars driving around 24×7; why would you ever buy a car (it is also believed that children being born now may never learn to drive).  If you then think laterally at the aftershock there would be a knock-on into how you insure yourself, why would you need a garage in your house or even a drive, cities wouldn’t need car parks.  What effect would this also have on the logistics businesses if these vehicles could also deliver shopping or purchases?

Self Help – The wearable market is expected to be worth $34.6 Billion by 2020, so imagine what could happen if everyone became proactive to health rather than relying on the traditional reactive Doctors surgery?  Health insurance would change, hospitals and doctors would certainly change, a new product line of self testing and DNA would emerge plus the whole pharma industry would shift into preventative medicine.  Also 200 million consumer virtual reality head-mounted displays are predicted to be sold worldwide by 2020 so this will cause disruptions right cross industries from Health, to Training, Gaming etc.

UI – What will be the interface of the future? I have already mentioned above about VR however what about AR (Augmented Reality), Voice and Touch.  The Qwerty keyboard has been around since the 1870s so maybe a change is due.  What would this do to the world if interaction with a computer was no longer by a keyboard?

As you can see from the few examples above its not just the individual Innovations which will cause disruptions but also the aftershock, so look up, look around and suddenly the opportunities will be plenty.

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Wearables, the disrupter of tomorrow

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Like most Innovations wearables are still waiting for the form factor to be more desirable and there to be a greater plethora of functionality to attract the masses. Wearables currently fall into two main camps although others are rising in popularity (Sensors, VR, AR etc.); namely the smart watch and the health tracker albeit both really need a few more technological advances for them to become more mainstream. Currently health trackers have greater appeal due to the lower cost and that the battery that can last up to a week, however the smart watches will encroach upon this as future versions have greater battery life, more apps and they include reliable Health sensors. Even with the limited user cases available today wearables will certainly disrupt the Health, life, Insurance and the mobile sector; however the real excitement comes when you think of the possibilities. Tesla already has an IOS app which will allow its owner to park and retrieve their car from their garage without being in the vehicle. Just think what could be around the corner if you factor in that the devices allow for 24 hour monitoring which could not only help you live longer but the big data statistics of a nation could be used for numerous reasons from enhancing medical science to behavioural analytics. Soon we could be paying with our watches, using the built in cameras to log our activities and possibly our consumption. How long will it be before the smart watch replaces our mobile when we are on the move and if over the air charging was added like they are starting to be investigate for iPhones and laptops everyone would want one.

It may not be tomorrow however will watches become the new mobile?