As the doors opened to this year’s CES tech show in Las Vegas, the latest in tech and gadgetry was unleashed on the world. With everything from smart hairbrushes to IoT-connected recycling devices on display, the hottest products hitting the stage all proclaimed their ‘intelligence’. But what does owning a ‘smart’ device actually mean?
The idea of artificial intelligence, or at least the notion of machine-based reasoning, has been knocking around since the late 1600s. Child prodigy and mathematician George Boole set about using his favourite subject to explain logic. He developed his idea into a new type of algebra which used only ‘true’ or ‘false’ statements. This algebra, or ‘Boolean logic’, became an essential tool in modern computing.
Taking this a step further was the work of the enigma code cracking mathematician Alan Turing. Turing suggested that by using a simple code, a machine could be made to deduce any mathematical problem. Inspired by this idea, other scientists of the day began to talk about creating an ‘artificial brain’ that could think for itself.
Artificial intelligence as we know it today found its feet in the 1950s. A conference at Dartmouth College in 1956 first coined the term ‘artificial intelligence’, and so began a dedicated research field. The products of this initial research are now ubiquitous. In fact, most of us are carrying them around in our pockets right now; in the shape of smartphone assistants ‘Siri’ and ‘Cortana’.
Taking baby steps in artificial intelligence
‘Intelligent’ and ‘smart’ products were the buzzwords at this year’s show, with the applications for AI seemingly boundless. However, some certainly proved far more useful than others.
Amazon’s ‘Alexa’ virtual assistant has this year taken on human form in Lynx; the latest walking, talking offering from Ubtech Robotics. Just like Alexa, the little robot sends your emails, plans your day and plays your favourite tunes. But unlike Alexa, it can also dance along to them with you. With facial, presence and voice interaction capabilities, this tiny robot tries its hardest to be the ‘personal’ in personal assistant.
But Lynx isn’t the only innovation powered by Amazon’s cloud-based voice service. Alexa has also lent her skills to Mattel’s Aristotle, an AI designed specifically for kids. With Alexa struggling to understand children’s voices and answer their questions, Mattel saw a vital gap in the market. Playing games, teaching sing-alongs, reinforcing manners and soothing restless little ones with lullabies, Aristotle is a round-the clock nursery assistant. A wireless camera streams directly to parents’ phones as a video baby monitor. Aristotle is also linked to Amazon, so alongside answering the quick-fire questions of fraught new parents, it can automatically put in an order for new nappies or a top-up of baby formula.
Dozer the Sleep Sheep is another plushy addition to your new-born’s growing arsenal of technology. A soft toy on the outside, the cuddly computer tracks your baby’s movement and sleep quality, playing calming tunes to keep them in dreamland. While at first glance Dozer sounds like every other health monitor, it also learns which songs lull your little one into the deepest sleep, and knows exactly when to start playing them.
AI is continuing to make its mark on the world of health gadgets and accessible tech. Starting life a few short years ago as a smartphone app, Aipoly gives vision through artificial intelligence. It takes in the world through your phone’s camera, understands the objects it is seeing and describes them out loud. Without any training, the app can identify hundreds of objects from the word go, and crowdsources knowledge from its users.
The app comes complete with ‘neural networks’, tacking on extra brain power to your already smart smartphone. Rather than taking a stream of photos and analysing them, these artificial brainwaves let Aipoly think on the spot. As more people add to the app’s knowledge bank, the team hope that it will soon be able to recognise complex scenes, even describing the interaction between different objects.
Whatever the application, artificial intelligence is increasingly being employed to assist us in our daily needs. But will this trend take off in the technology of the future? Watch this space to find out.