Auto Pilot: Emotional Connections through AI and the Internet of Things
Some people love their cars. How many other objects can make a stereotypical middle-aged man justify spending a Saturday morning to hand wax his four-wheeled beauty? But for all that time spent doting over an automobile; the simple fact is a machine just can't love you back. At least not yet...
Even a rusty old bucket of bolts can take you from point A to B just as quickly as a brand new luxury sedan. Given this logic, why do human beings spend so much time and energy loving their cars when there is no rational reason to do so? Believe it or not, this example illustrates the promise of artificial intelligence as well as the burgeoning growth of the Internet of Things.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is manifesting itself in many ways. Ask anyone who works in financial services how sentiment analysis is transforming the stock market. Large banks and mutual funds now possess proprietary software that allows them to mine Big Data so they can tap into the psyche of crowds. If millions of tweets around the world express worry about future energy problems in Ukraine, then the banks might short-sell stocks with exposure to the Ukrainian energy market. Of course these recent development are on top of the decades-long evolution of AI on the plant floor - the original "Rise of the Machines" that eventually displaced some of the workers making those coveted automobiles.
As high-tech as this all sounds, AI is now seeking to replicate something that people have known for thousands of years - emotional connections. Natural analogs to AI aren't new, and the trusty horse is a good example. The longer you ride it, the more familiar the horse becomes with your movements in the saddle, your temperament, and your likelihood to give certain commands in certain situations. Automakers are using time-tested and well-understood concepts like this to build cars that do much of the same thing. Beyond the technology and the tachometer, companies are actually designing cars that can love you back. Just as financial markets are the manifestation of concerns, aspirations, and fears of millions of investors around the world, in a way so are highways for drivers. Toyota has recently unveiled a fascinating concept vehicle - the FV2 - that focuses on becoming more emotionally and physically connected to the driver the longer she uses it. See here for a sneak peek.
The real kicker is how the Information Superhighway is merging into the physical highways with the Internet of Things. Telematics and connected cars already provide roadside assistance, streaming entertainment and baby-steps toward home connectivity. Insurance integration, app storefronts, and real-time diagnostics are on the near horizon. The use cases are easy to imagine, and the love affair with the auto (and let's not forget the connected motorcycle!) will become even more torrid once the aphrodisiac of technology is added to the equation. As an example, vehicles will avoid metropolitan areas at rush hour, filled with debilitating traffic jams, and reroute in real time to less congested, more scenic pathways to the destination. Connecting to the information infrastructure, of course, can also improve safety by giving drivers advanced warnings about vehicles in blind spots and bottlenecks, and provide a reassuring virtual airbag of protective information.
That's really the essence of the next generation of mobile computing devices, isn't it? Design, intelligence, and connectivity: design that makes you feel good, intelligence that anticipates and accentuates the experience, and connectivity that networks the device - and you - into the world around. An automobile can get smarter by talking and listening and using its connection to a network as a drive-able computing platform. According to Toyota, the FV2 will go beyond that, to include emotional communications like expressions, gestures, and recollection of past events.
Can you imagine a car that knows where you're going ... even before you do? One of the features of the Toyota FV2 concept car is that the driver use natural movements to steer: lean left to turn left and tilt forward to accelerate. These natural body commands are also what made the Segway so interesting. No steering wheel is necessary if the machine can sense your movements. Toyota, as part of its concept car research, says that it envisions AI to grow alongside human intelligence so that it can display feelings and evoke fondness and trust. Who can argue with that? Those are certainly qualities you want someone (or something) behind the wheel of your car to possess.
The entertainment industry has recently released its newest version of how they think the Internet of Things and AI will play out. The new compelling (even if critically panned) movie "Transcendence" stars Johnny Depp as a scientist and AI expert who is shot by anti-technology activists. He decides to become his own test subject and uploads his consciousness to a computer network just before he dies. The movie is compelling because one of the storylines involves this hybrid computer-man beginning to network the consciousness of other people into his so that he might heal their bodies. But as he grows stronger with every consciousness added to his own, the scientific debate ensues: is he a savior of the world's problems or a computerized monster that will soon eclipse the power of mankind?
It's (mostly) science fiction - for now. But the day that computers learn enough from humans begin thinking on their own is probably something we'll see within the next century. The Singularity is, as futurist Ray Kurzweil has called it, when AI has progressed to greater-than-human intelligence (he believes it will occur around 2045). Whether this vision is utopian or Brave New World, we are hurtling headlong toward it, because the economic potential is enormous.
If the Internet of Things and AI continue to introduce products that make life more enriching and enjoyable, the innovations of the next few decades will be momentous indeed. With the frequency of innovations outpacing the human ability to absorb them, companies will need to find a balance between feature proliferation and the ability to monetize them in the market. As for me, I'll be happy if AI will just help me find my keys.