Our smart new lives – Alexa Stop CES Special

Alexa Stop CES special with Innovation Social

Alexa Stop is kicking off 2018 with a series of extra special podcasts in collaboration with Innovation Social. Following CES (Consumer Electronics Show), Rob is joined by Will Harvey of VCCP as they dive into the topic of ‘What’s Next’ to debate the big tech announcements and what it could mean this year.

They are joined by an esteemed panel: Alex Jenkins of Contagious, Victoria Buchanan from Future Laboratory and Dean Johnson of Brandwidth.

CES, famed this year for the power cut that saw mobile phones held to ransom as the charging units locked, provides plenty of inspiration for speculating about the future of tech. Here’s my takeaway on the top trends that will be dominating culture in 2018.

Evolving smart assistants

With the likes of Amazon Echo and Google Home paving the way, we are now seeing lots of other brands entering the Smart Assistant space, with this technology being baked into everyday products from cars to light switches. In my home we have become very accustomed to Alexa. But whenever friends and family come round they are still fascinated by our interactions with her (yes we do refer to Alexa as a being). So, is Alexa merely introducing people to AI, and making them feel comfortable before these devices actually become truly intelligent and conversational?

Currently, we are part of a world that is built on Graphical User Interfaces. Will highlights that brands want to experiment with Voice User Interface but have always been driven by very visual representations of themselves. How does a brand find itself in the new era of spoken smart assistance? How will they differentiate themselves from the competition, and make sure theirs is the only search result returned in smart home device responses?

Moving beyond voice

We are very visual beings, however, so there will always be that role for graphical feedback. We can take in information so much faster with our eyes, compared to our ears. And if we are not at that point where technology is smart enough to have an intelligent conversation with us then we’re not going to invest our time in it. Saying that, although we can absorb information quicker using vision, output-wise we can talk faster than we can type, so there will be instances where voice is the correct medium to use over graphics. This is also largely dependant on the device we are using. I often find myself controlling music through Alexa on my phone when I have guests round, as it feels too intrusive to shout “ALEXA VOLUME DOWN” mid conversation.

The increasingly connected home

This begs the question, with current smart capabilities, are we using these because we can, rather than because we should (rightly pointed out by Rob)? You can turn lights on using motion sensors which is surely far more efficient and practical? What happens when your friends come round for dinner and don’t know the voice command required to turn on your bathroom light (my favourite observation from Victoria)?! In that instance, voice becomes unhelpful and inconvenient. Being able to interact and pre-empt behaviour is where smart assistance needs to get to.

So if smart devices are actually just ordinary devices connected to the internet, what makes that smart (interesting point from Alex)? How reliant do we want our home to be on the internet anyway? It’s bad enough when Netflix has to buffer every 5 minutes between the hours of 7pm and 8pm, but if my washing machine was hooked up to the internet, would that stop too?

The Autonomous vehicle revolution

As with smart assistants, there are more established automotive companies such as Ford that are battling with the likes of Google in the driverless car space. I think a lot of the public’s imagination was captured by the thought of flying vehicles, or just a driverless car (at least on my part). Unveiled at CES, the Toyota e-Pallet, a customisable transportation vehicle that could be utilised for multiple different purposes, really highlighted the possibilities of this technology.

Already 2018 is going to see the integration of Alexa in some Toyota and Lexus cars. But that’s just the start. Dean pointed out that autonomous vehicles are likely to provide a platform that connects the tech currently available that we can’t quite justify yet. Suddenly other products,such as VR, will be able to evolve through this leap forward.

Drive time becomes free time

According to figures from this time last year, the average car is parked 96% of the time (which doesn’t even include the time you are sat in traffic). Dean believes this begs a question based on our increasing urbanisation, around ownership and smarter transport solutions. Going back to Victoria’s point of being beneficial and helpful, apparently driverless cars will free up 290 hours of our time per year. So what will cars look like when we’re not just using them to get from A to B anymore? With the Toyota e-Pallet designed to be customisable, this could be a retail space or hospitality space. Or it could be something as simple as a local bus for multiple people…

Smart cities, new inequalities?

Time won’t just be saved through using travel time differently, but it will be saved by the overall smart nature of our cities. If all of our surroundings are smart, then everything would be quicker than the speed we are accustomed to now. However, this has got me thinking about the impact of wealth in these situations. If we were all to move to autonomous vehicles, undoubtedly there would be versions that are ‘better’ than others. Meaning increased intelligence of the more expensive models, could see them making more accurate decisions quicker, and in doing so de-prioritise those with the inferior models from the fastest routes?

Reality bites

Moving on to the variety of realities we have now; augmented reality, virtual reality, mixed reality? Whatever we’re calling them, they’re not necessarily something new, but organisations are making tools to create and manage them.

I feel the main takeaway from this segment was that these devices and experiences need to add value (and that people don’t like sticking unnecessary things on their faces). Merely evolving the technology does not mean people will adopt it. It’s got to fit seamlessly and comfortably in people’s lives, save them time, or empower them in some way.

Young, gifted and ad-free

Weirdly this could mean that embedding chips in humans will be more successful than asking people to wear glasses (I think vanity has a part to play here too!), although arguably more intrusive, it’s physically less of a barrier between you and the people around you.

Rob posed an interesting question around advertising. If you can’t afford the premium version of AR technology, and opt for the version supported by adverts, are you going to spend your time quite literally running away from adverts? Just being fed that version could be a constant visual reminder that you can’t afford the real experience, that you’re living an inferior version of life. What could this mean for our mental health?

The upshot is that Alexa Stop has got me thinking more about how technology is going to change our lives, rather than what shiny new gadget I can impress my friends with.


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