The two leading edge technologies at CES 2017 were artificial intelligence and augmented reality.
Artificial Intelligence. It was IBM’s Watson that propelled artificial intelligence onto the world stage. Watson is a supercomputer with a cognitive system capable of answering natural-language questions. In 2011, Watson beat two human contestants on “Jeopardy!” to win $1 million. That same year, Apple introduced Siri, the first artificial intelligence application widely available to consumers. Siri was followed by other digital voices that can provide answers and information, Google Now in 2012 and Microsoft’s Cortana in 2015.
In short, artificial intelligence is a computer doing what we used to think only humans can do.
The dominant force in artificial intelligence at CES 2017, however, was Amazon’s Alexa, a voice service technology. Alexa powers two very popular Amazon devices — the Echo, first sold in 2014, and its smaller version, Echo Dot. (Neither were exhibited at CES.) Echo is different from Siri and Cortana because it is not tethered to your hand, smartphone or computer. Echo resides on its own in your home or office. It can be activated when you’re getting dressed, reviewing documents, cooking dinner or putting on a Band-Aid.
Because it was the hottest-selling consumer electronic product in 2016, many exhibitors at CES 2017 developed and promoted products that work with Alexa. For example, GE Appliances’ products (refrigerators, dishwashers) use Alexa to respond to voice commands, and JAM Audio’s new speaker device, named JAM Voice, which similar to Alexa and Echo.
Alexa and Echo do have competition, however. Google Home is a speaker device powered by Google Assistant (the improved version of Google Now). And the bold CEO of gaming company Nvidia, Jen-Hsun Huang, introduced Spot, an artificial intelligence device that responds to voice commands using Google Assistant. Nevertheless, in the home/office market for artificial intelligence, Amazon has a big lead over Google.
Augmented Reality. Let’s start with the difference between virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). With VR, a viewer sees a simulated environment. With AR, a viewer sees a real environment that is modified (enhanced or diminished) by computer-generated digital content such as sound, graphics, and data.
VR technology has been well represented at previous CES events, primarily by headsets for gaming and immersive fantasy experiences in downloaded content from a computer or delivered wired or wirelessly by a smartphone. VR headsets continued to improve at CES 2017. Dlodlo displayed an “all-in one” X1 headset that can run independently, not tethered to or dependent on PC’s or smart phones. The challenges for VR are attracting more producers to generate VR content, developing industry standards for transmitting 360-degree video and integrating VR on web platforms.
AR technology opens a whole new field of applications – training and education, real estate marketing, repairs, product purchasing decisions, construction, movie and stage direction, tours and maps and more. Many of these applications, however, are more appropriate for business and education; they are not consumer-oriented.
Nevertheless, CES 2017 touted AR, and some consumer applications did surface. At the Qualcomm exhibit, there was a demonstration of how a consumer ready to buy a new chair could use AR to see if the chair would fit in her living room and where. Using a Lenovo smartphone with Qualcomm processor and Google’s Tango AR platform, the consumer at home could place (and move around) an image of the chair into a live view of the living room on the phone screen. Another consumer application would be overlaying scores and stats onto TV screens during sporting events.
AR technology is new, so time will tell. But there is a market out there, as AR company Niantic showed with the Pkoemon GO app that could superimpose a found Pokemon on the phone screen as if it existed in the real world.
We’ll be seeing more products using artificial intelligence and augmented reality in the coming years.