Talk to the Cloud

CES 2018 has one key talking point: Voice is becoming one of the prime gateways to access intelligent services from cooking to car-sharing.

Leaving the futuristic concept cars, cute robots and oversized, super-crisp TV sets aside, this year’s CES trade show in Las Vegas is mostly about the things you can’t see or touch.

More and more parts of the environment are becoming infused with artificial intelligence. A voice interface as the prime gateway lets people control everyday devices, so they can get mundane chores and complex tasks done.

Finally, the device prepares meals

The novelties on display in Las Vegas range from smoke detectors that suddenly become access points for a smart home and an extension of an infinite entertainment system, kitchen appliances that can prepare meals and do laundry on a simple spoken command all the way to the new Mercedes-Benz personalized user experience so a vehicle knows its passengers and anticipates their needs.

What’s driving all those innovations is the trifecta of ubiquitous mobile and wireless connectivity, a deluge of data streams and voice-assistant platforms such as Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and Mercedes-Benz MBUX.

They allow hardware and software companies large and small to effortlessly plug into an intelligent backend that has all the bells and whistles of machine learning and language processing. Intelligence as a service is rapidly expanding into almost all corners of work and life, health, entertainment and mobility. Those inconspicuous 21st century butlers are also becoming constantly more skilful since all it takes is an over-the-air update to boost their IQ.

Data will redefine how we experience our life.

Brian Krzanich, Intel CEO

Intel CEO Brian Krzanich tried to summarize the big trends in his opening keynote. ‘Data will redefine how we experience our life,’ he said, pointing to a rapidly rising flood of bits humans and machines are creating.

By 2020, the average person will generate 1.5 Gigabytes of data a day. That pales in comparison to connected machinery. An autonomous vehicle will generate 4 Terabytes, a modern passenger jet 40 Terabytes and smart factory a staggering 1 Petabyte of data in a single day.

By 2020, the average person will generate 1.5 Gigabytes of data a day. An autonomous vehicle will generate 4 Terabytes a day

Combine those data streams with artificial intelligence, Krzanich argued, and they become the foundation of innovation. Putting dozens or even hundreds of high-definition cameras around a sports event or a next-generation movie set will capture reality in a completely new way, allowing every member of an audience to be the actor or the athlete. These immersive experiences will become ‘the new normal,’ the Intel CEO predicted.

Such volumetric video, which records billions of three-dimensional points in space, or voxels, is also redefining how an autonomous vehicle (AV) ‘sees’ its environment and will navigate busy city streets with lots of unpredictable participants such as pedestrians and bikers.

Autonomous vehicles are ‘the most ambitious data project of our lifetime,’ said Krzanich. Once cars with varying levels of autonomy become a bigger par of the future mobility mix, they can feed and harness the abundance of data to reduce fatalities, cut down on hours and fuel wasted in traffic. AVs, Krzanich said, are ‘not an experiment, but a path to the future’ that’s much closer than anyone realizes.

Autonomous vehicles are the most ambitious data project of our lifetime.

Brian Krzanich, Intel CEO

Voice, it’s becoming clear, is the next big milestone in how humans interact with technology. ‘Voice is the most natural interface,’ said Charlie Kindel, who leads Smart Home product development for Amazon Alexa. ‘I have more than 200 devices at home and I control them all with my voice.’

Every company should start thinking about how it can integrate voice capabilities into their products and services as people expect it wherever they go, Kindel added.

I have more than 200 devices at home and I control them all with my voice.

Charlie Kindel, Head of Smart Home Product Development for Amazon Alexa

The Consumer Technology Association that puts on the CES spectacle provided fresh numbers to back up this claim. Sales of voice-controlled speakers such as Amazon Echo and Google Home almost tripled last year and are projected to reach 44 million units in the U.S. alone in 2018, a 60% increase. Revenue from the devices is expected to hit $4 billion in 2018, almost double than last year.

It may be awhile until fully autonomous cars or personal air taxis that consumers can summon with an app like they do a ride hailing service today hit your city. But there’s always virtual reality (VR) as a means to experience the near future—another technology that’s making broad inroads to become main-stream.

Tools for managing daily-life

A study conducted on behalf of Accenture in 19 countries and released at CES shows that consumers are more interested in practical, daily-life applications of VR and less in using such headsets to play games. About two-thirds of those polled said they wanted to use Artificial Reality to know more about places they’re visiting, learn new skills or techniques and visualize how clothes might fit.

Visitors to Bell Helicopter’s booth, for instance, could put on a set of goggles and see for themselves what Uber has in mind with its personal air taxis set to launch in a few years in places such as LA, Dallas-Fort Worth and Dubai.

German start-up Volocopter, in which Daimler is an investor, also drew crowds with its 18-rotor electric flyer that has already been tested in Germany and Dubai.

The future is all ears

So: Hey, what’s the take-away from the tech feeding frenzy that drew close to 200,000 people to Las Vegas?

From the dishwasher that jumps into action when a user enters her house or the air purifier that samples the air quality at home and wakes up a diffuser all the way to the personal air taxi that whisks users across town—almost all the devices and services that close to 4,000 exhibitors showed off at CES rely on a constant diet of data and access to intelligent backends in the cloud that help them understand our voice and—even more critical—human intent. The future is all ears.

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