I blame Hollywood.
For the most part, science fiction shows technology contributing to a great promised future (dystopian futures aside, but nothing gets a fair shake there). Look at what films such as Blade Runner and Back to the Future II predicted digital signage would become. And we are all waiting for the floating touch displays used in Minority Report and the Iron Man films.
But ever since HAL’s menacing red eye blocked Dave from getting in the pod bay door in 1968’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, artificial intelligence (AI) has been cast as the villain. Westworld, Terminator, Age of Ultron … the list continues to grow despite AI becoming science fact and involved in many positive real-world applications today.
Compile these decades of fictitious worst-case scenarios with today’s legitimate concerns of data collection and theft, and it would not be surprising if in-home AI were considered DOA.
But it isn’t. In fact, it is poised to grow stronger and gain an even deeper foothold in the home in the very near future. Why? Because it does exactly what the best technologies do — AI makes life inside the home better, safer, and more accessible.
Let’s start with convenience. “Look at what Vivint has done with Vivint Sky, which is an AI-powered virtual assistant,” says Brad Russell, research director, connected home, Park Associates. “They're applying artificial intelligence to learn the family's behavior in the home. It learns what devices are being turned on and off, and when people are coming and going, it's proactively communicating with the homeowner and asking them questions. Things such as, ‘I see that it's 10:30 at night and everybody seems to be in the home, but your front door is still unlocked. Would you like me to lock that for you?’ The result will be that it will make the user experience so much easier.”
When you add facial recognition to the AI system, the possibilities increase exponentially. Imagine the house or separate devices activating based on which family member walks in the door — customizing which lights get turned on, what music or programs gets played, heating or cooling preferences, and so on. For people living with disabilities, these actions can be more than convenient, and very necessary.
In terms of keeping the house safe, an AI-enabled system offers better protection with fewer false alarms. “On the security side, artificial intelligence enables anomaly detection — catching the weird stuff that happens,” says Russell. “Again, the system is learning the normal patterns of behavior based upon the video analytics and sensors that tell when the doors or windows normally open and close. Then when the weird stuff happens at 3:00 am in the morning when there’s movement in an odd location or a window opens, or something that has been sitting outside in one place for a very long time is suddenly moved, the AI will say, ‘Hey something suspicious is happening — maybe you should check it out.’”
That anomaly detection is key to aging-in-place technologies, where the systems learn the household behaviors of seniors and alert caregivers to possible problems such as not going into the kitchen as often (are they eating properly?) or not leaving the bedroom for longer periods than normal (are they feeling okay?). This smarter home technology can help get attention to seniors’ needs prior to needing an ambulance or other emergency care.
Smart home AI also can do its part in saving the planet (and your client’s energy bills) by learning family patterns and, in accordance with an energy-management system, effectively activate lights, shades, heating, and cooling to maximize comfort while minimizing waste.
So it’s clear AI isn’t interested in taking over the world — just making parts of it better. But it still involves turning over more personal data to a device, and the news is filled with data breaches and identity theft. Will clients be willing to expose themselves further?
“It's all tied to end user value,” says Russell. “If the end user perceives these devices and services can do something that's really valuable to them, then they'll share the data.”
It’s up to manufacturers and integrators alike, however, to better inform their customers exactly what is being done with the data. “I do think we're still in the early stages of companies learning how to communicate with consumers about data,” says Russell. “I think we're in the infancy, and companies have got to be more transparent about the data that we're gathering. ‘This is why we're gathering it. This is the value that we create for you based upon this data, and here are some controls for you if you want to minimize this data collection instead.’
“What we have now are these obscure privacy policies that no one reads because they don't tell you anything, and they are all or nothing. These are really primitive ways of dealing with what is a very complicated issue. And so I think we will we will mature into a more sophisticated way of giving consumers control. They know companies are using consumer data to drive business value — they just want a piece of the action.”
What role does the residential integrator play in the increasingly AI future? A key one. “Residential integrators need to understand the value propositions of various applications of AI so they can explain them to consumers,” says Russell. “System integrators are fundamentally educators. They have to educate their clients about what these technologies can do for them why you can trust them.” Then, of course, integrators will recommend services and implement the systems.
On the business side, AI promises to play a greater role in customer service, with chatbots evolving quickly and that “anomaly detection” discussed earlier potentially playing a part in early detection and repair, and less truck rolls.
So the future is poised to endure an artificial intelligence revolution that leads to better lives — and not subjugation by robot overlords.
Which is great, but that doesn’t mean those videos of Boston Dynamics’s robot dogs don’t creep me out a little.