Chief Marketing Officer at Interactions, a conversational AI company, where he oversees all aspects of communications, sales and marketing.
They say home is where the heart is. But as it turns out, home is where everything is — at least for now.
They’ve been confined to the same four walls for nearly a year now, and many people have upgraded their experience with smart home technology. In a 2021 survey by consumer technology company Xiaomi, 51% of respondents indicated that they had purchased at least one smart device during the pandemic. NPR/Edison Research data from March 2020 shows that many owners have reported using their smart speakers for media and entertainment more. So it’s no surprise that the global smart home market is now expected to be worth over $141 billion in revenue by 2023.
I’m fascinated by the smart home because, in many ways, it’s a magnifying glass on our experience with artificial intelligence (AI). For one thing, devices like a Nest smart thermostat or an Amazon Echo are the most up-close-and-personal interactions most people have with AI. Not everyone works with AI-driven voice technology for a living like I do; so for the everyday consumer, their impressions of AI are forged by daily experiences with connected household items. But even more importantly, our homes are the most intimate possible setting for AI. They’re where people let their guard down, have their most personal conversations and let their children play. Understandably, some people are hypervigilant about the technology they allow in this extremely personal setting.
But while AI in the home often faces the highest levels of scrutiny, it also carries tremendous potential to make our everyday lives easier, safer and more sustainable. As the smart home amplifies our apprehensions with AI as well as our aspirations for it, I believe we can all learn a thing or two by analyzing these dynamics at work. Here are four things smart home technology teaches us about the future of AI.
It doesn’t have to be rocket science; it just has to be useful.
Today, there are robots that can dance, flip burgers and even deliver toilet paper. But realistically, most of AI’s flashiest applications won’t be practical for the masses because of high price points, complexity or limited usefulness. On the other hand, according to NPR and Edison Research, there were 157 million smart speakers deployed in the United States as of December 2019. The average owner possesses 2.6 speakers, and more than two out of three users say smart speakers make their lives easier.
This shows us that flashy one-trick ponies aren’t the future of AI. I believe people are drawn to devices that fit seamlessly into their daily lives — waking them up, playing music, sharing the weather and creating their shopping lists. Not every innovation has to be groundbreaking; it just has to improve users’ lives in small yet meaningful ways.
Tesla owners aren’t the (only) target audience.
When a device is needlessly complex, it’s easy for people to get frustrated and decide the juice isn’t worth the squeeze. The key to getting an AI-powered tool to really catch on is ensuring its ease of use.
I think Alex Capecelatro, founder and CEO of Josh.ai, said it best on a recent episode of my company’s podcast. Originally, his team believed that their target demographic would be iPhone-owning, Tesla-driving technophiles. Instead, they found the elderly and the tech-resistant drawn to the simple voice control. This, the ability to hook tech laggards, is one key to transformational technologies picking up steam.
The average person likely wants to speak in their own words to smart speakers and virtual agents; they want to tell their connected home just once to raise the blinds at six a.m. each day and to know with certainty that the doors are locked once their assistant is asked to do so. If this isn’t the case, they’ll likely decide the tech isn’t worth the fuss. Creating a simple, reliable system goes a long way toward people welcoming AI with open arms.
The question of privacy is not a new one for AI — shortcomings have been well-documented, particularly in the context of the smart home. In 2019, for example, we found out that companies like Amazon were manually reviewing voice recordings.
Concerns about AI security and privacy really come under the microscope in the home, where people have a heightened sensitivity to signs of invasiveness. In fact, 66% of people who don’t own smart speakers say it’s because it bothers them that they’re always listening; 58% don’t trust the companies to keep their information secure, and 46% believe they could allow the government to listen in on conversations.
To win over more reluctant consumers, it’s imperative to improve transparency and build trust in these devices. Small practices like granting users access to their personal history and making it easy to wipe it clean could pay dividends for building greater trust in, and adoption of, AI technology.
The little things add up.
It’s true that AI still faces certain challenges to prove itself. But AI in the home also shows us the real potential for the technology to meaningfully improve our day-to-day lives through a multitude of little, everyday benefits.
By learning our behaviors and preferences — what time we lock up in the morning, feed the dog and play dinner music — it can anticipate and act on our needs or offer reminders so the garage door isn’t left open and the dog doesn’t go hungry. It can also make us greener by turning off the lights when we’re not in the room, lowering the heat when we’re at work or notifying us when a window is left open while the AC is blasting. More than anything, I think the smart home shows us how AI, when done right, can make our lives more seamless.
We don’t often get a real glimpse of the future before it happens, but I believe that’s what the smart home grants business leaders for the future of AI. As smart home technology puts the industry under the microscope, amplifying potential concerns and meaningful benefits, it teaches us what the path forward should look like and allows us to forge a better future for AI — beginning today.