11 months ago

Smart Industry 1/2018

Smart Industry 1/2018 - The IoT Business Magazine - powered by Avnet Silica


Smart Communications Voice Interface | Chatbots messaging apps quickly surpassed the number of active social network users, according to a report from news website Business Intelligence. One year later, WhatsApp reached the one billion user mark, meaning roughly one in seven people on the planet use the Facebook-owned platform. WeChat, its Chinese competitor, claims to have 768 million users logged in daily, as of September 2016. In tandem with smart speakers, chatbots, essentially talking computers, have been quietly entering homes around the world. According to the market research company eMarketer, there were more than 35 million of them in American homes in mid-2017 – more than twice as many as just a year ago. McKinsey, an analysis company, predicts that three quarters of US households will own at least one of the gadgets by 2020. “It’s not hard to understand the attrac tion,” Carr says. “Smart speakers are oracles of the countertop. They may not be able to speak for the gods but they can deliver reports on news, traffic, and weather. And they have other talents that their Delphic ancestor couldn’t even dream of: they can serve as DJ. They can diagnose ailments and soothe anxieties. They can read bedtime stories. They can even bark like a watchdog to scare off burglars. And they promise to be the major-domos of home automation, adjusting lights, controlling appliances, and issuing orders to specialized robots like the Roomba vacuum cleaner.” Building a humanoid robot is tricky. Illah Nourbakhsh, a Carnegie Mellon University professor who specializes in robot design and is author of the book Robot Futures, reminds us that it requires advances not only in artificial China calling WeChat claimed to have more than 760 million users in 2016 The human nervous system is a marvel of physical control, able to sense and respond fluidly to an ever-changing environment Illah Nourbakhsh is professor at Carnegie Mellon University, specializing in robot design intelligence but also in the complex hardware systems required to enable movement, perception, and dexterity. “The human nervous system is a marvel of physical control, able to sense and respond fluidly to an everchanging environment,” Nourbakhsh maintains. Achieving such agility with silicon and steel lies well beyond the reach of today’s engineers, he argues. Building a chatbot and channeling it through a set of smart speakers, on the other hand, is child’s play for the big tech companies such as GAFA (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon) and their peers. After all, messaging has become a major way for people to interact with their smartphones, so companies want chatbots to literally become a part of the conversation. For example, a group of friends could be discussing evening plans and a chatbot would seamlessly order movie tickets. Oracle recently surveyed major companies around the world and found 80% plan to use chatbots for customer inter actions by 2020 and 36% have already started implementing them. As the dominant player in the field of messaging services, Facebook with its Messenger platform and ownership of WhatsApp is poised to take the lead. Facebook has 1.2 billion people using Messenger currently and over 100,000 active bots monthly. Mark Zuckerberg recently showcased an AI-powered virtual assistant, code - named “M,” to a handful of tech journal ists. When M faces a question it can’t answer, it calls on human backup. Each time an intervention is required, M learns from what its human helpmate does. It can parse conversations, either locally through smart speakers or online, for certain keywords and contexts. Let’s say you need some money or want to take a trip, M can suggest ways to transfer money or hail a ride-share service. Users can tell M to share music, order food, or split a restaurant bill without leaving the conversation. The next big way to use computers Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella believes chat-based interfaces will eventually become the primary way people use the Internet, replacing the graphical user interface, the mouse, and touchscreens as the next big way to interact with computers. “Intelligence will be infused into all of your interactions. That’s the rich platform that we have,” Nadella told the audience at Build 2016 in San Francisco, where he unveiled his company's grand vision of "Conversation as a Platform" – making bots that understand natural language the next big way to use computers. Conversation as a Platform, he believes, will “funda- 56

mentally revolutionize how computing is experienced by everybody,” in a paradigm shift comparable to the development of the web browser. Microsoft showcased how this might work using Skype, which it acquired in 2011 for $8.5bn, demonstrating how Cortana can team up with various bots to plan a holiday – all without leaving the chat window. The company also unveiled what it calls the Microsoft Bot Framework: a toolkit of code and machine learning programs to enable anyone to build their own chatbot. Amazon has been following Microsoft and Facebook’s lead by creating Lex, a powerful conversation interface tool that uses the same technology as their Alexa chatbot. The company allows developers to create conversational apps or chatbots for chat services, IoT devices, or messaging services using a simple set of tools. In Amazon's shareholder letter in 2017, Jeff Bezos told investors to “watch this space. Much more to come.” Analysts believe Amazon’s focus will be on bringing AI to companies via Lex, with attention on personal assistants for shopping. With over 10 million Echo devices sold, Amazon has its feet firmly placed in the smart speaker market; it is now looking for technologies that would allow it to continue to dominate retail commerce in the long term. As with every new technology, there are fears that chatbots and smart speakers, the new robots, will not only have benign effects. Nicholas Carr worries that “whenever you chat with a smart speaker, you’re disclosing valuable information about your routines and proclivities.” Smart speakers, he argues, not only provide a powerful complement to smartphones but, equipped with sensitive microphones, they will also serve as in-home listening devices that greatly extend the ability of their makers to monitor consumer habits. Big Brother, he fears, will not be watching us surreptitiously; he will be sitting right there on all our living room tables. Changing the way people use technology However that may pan out, smart speakers and AI chatbots appear to be here for the long run. The main reason will probably be convenience, says tech writer Jon Walker, who has been following the “Big 4” technology firms and their chatbot plans for years. “You just ask and it happens,” he says. His view of the future is optimistic: “Based on Facebook’s experiment with an AI assistant that has human backup, it seems that if people have access to a really great assistant program they will use it frequently.” In the meantime, big companies like Conversation as a Platform will fundamentally revolutionize how computing is experienced by everybody Satya Nadella Microsoft CEO Microsoft, Amazon, and Facebook are investing heavily in the technology behind this generation of stationary robots and personal assistants, and betting they will soon become smart enough to change the way people use technology. At the moment, using a smartphone or accessing dozens of apps requires users to take dozens of different actions. That may soon become a thing of the past. Interacting with our machines may soon seem like sitting around and shooting the breeze with a few friends. 57