There are two letters that will be ubiquitous at CES 2018 in Las Vegas—A and I—as artificial intelligence will take center stage at CES. New at this year’s CES, the Artificial Intelligence (AI) Marketplace will be the destination for the latest innovations in AI infrastructure and computer systems able to perform human-intelligence tasks. From big data analytics and solutions, speech recognition, learning and decision-making products to predictive technology, the AI Marketplace will showcase revolutionary data models and solutions that will shape the future of businesses.
Attendees have a range of AI-themed panels to choose from, while it will come up in countless keynote speeches and other conversations at the Consumer Technology Association’s global gathering of the tech tribes that was formerly known as the International Consumer Electronics Show (it’s now just CES).
A panel on Jan. 11, for example, looks at the impact and future of AI and robotics and the rise of the machines, with speakers including IBM’s Michael Ludden, Director of Product for the IBM Watson Developer Labs & AR/VR Labs. The agenda: “Futurists have predicted that machines will match human intelligence in as few as 12 years. There will need to be many points of understanding to trust in AI systems and the decisions they make. Hear about the future of artificial intelligence and the universal standards that are needed to usher humans into this brave new world.”
Addressing concerns about AI and robots supplanting human workers, an earlier panel on January 9th also features an IBM exec (Bridget Karlin, CTO & VP, GTS Technology, Innovation & Automation, IBM Global Technology Services), this time addressing the future of work for both humans and machines. The panel’s description: “Technology, from artificial intelligence to the internet of things, is rapidly changing the way we work and live. Learn about the big changes facing the American workforce, and how new tech will create new opportunities for the next generation of workers.”
While CES may have dropped “Consumer” from its name, consumers and the brands who serve them are still key to the success of AI. People are still getting accustomed to what AI can do for them, whether in a business context (such as Amazon’s Alexa for Business or IBM Watson‘s plethora of enterprise partners) or at home, with Siri, Alexa, Cortana and “OK Google” now moving past early adopters. An estimated 56 million smart speakers will be shipped this year, according to a new forecast from Canalys.
Brand marketers, strategists and executives, along with CTOs, CEOs, analysts, investors and other stakeholders, will be walking the CES floor and talking, a lot, about what AI can do and what they’re already learning by employing machine learning to improve operations and the customer experience.
For the customer, however, there is still a great deal of confusion about what AI is, exactly—how it works, privacy questions, where it all goes from here and how much they really need to understand about AI-driven technology and advances to navigate this new world.
As tech analyst Carolina Milanesi told the New York Times, “It’s less about the hardware, and more about what’s inside.” For consumers who are dazzled by flashy new devices, A.I. is never as exciting, she said—but it’s the magic that is making hardware evolve.
The dominance of AI at CES, which began life more than half a century ago to showcase the latest and greatest in TV technology and then home entertainment equipment in the lead-up to the Super Bowl, shows how much the event, and the world, has changed. As the Times observes, “It has become less of a venue for tech companies to unveil splashy new products like smartphones or computers, and instead has turned into a showcase for nascent technologies.”
As USA Today notes in its CES curtain-raiser, “The buzzword of the entire show is going to be AI,” says Creative Strategies president and veteran CES attendee Tim Bajarin, who says the tech industry is going “to apply AI to pretty much everything (it) can.” USA Today‘s tech writer Ed Baig continues:
Amazon and Google are pushing their artificial intelligence (AI) into a range of uses and partner products, widening the potential for the convenience and privacy perils that these always-listening devices promise. That’s not all. To achieve this robot-controlled future, some major upgrades to the plumbing need to happen. The vision for a smart society also hinges on better bandwidth — speedy next generation “5G” wireless — and the placement of sensitive computing sensors all over your daily life.
The preponderance of devices and players will make this CES, which also includes mini-shows on digital health and cryptocurrencies, for example, more dazzling and bewildering—to outsiders, at least—than ever. More than 4,000 exhibitors will be pitching their view of the connected future (and present) to more than 180,000 attendees.
As ever, the visible and flashy features at booths will garner a lot of press, so AI-driven robots (the new booth babes) will be taking over Las Vegas. LG, for example, is bringing a trio of CLOi-branded robots designed to work in airports, hotels and supermarkets, while Honda is putting exhibitor passes on its cute robotic concepts (at top). If only science fiction visionary Isaac Asimov, whose I, Robot pondered the relationship between humans and robots, had lived to see the day.
And there will still be consumer electronics, including massive and dazzling televisions, a fleet of self-driving cars, the buzz of overhead drones, agile and innovative laptops, and enough smart home appliances to power a city. In fact, this year there’s a mini-exhibition area devoted to smart cities.
As Consumer Technology Association senior director of market research Steve Koenig told Deutsche Welle this week about what to expect at CES, “AI will be a constant narrative around the show for brands and services. We’ll be talking about how they’re employing machine learning to improve outcomes and improve the customer experience. I think 2018 is a major inflection point with the application of AI.”
Beyond the army of digital assistants for the home and business, he added, “AI will start to take on a number of tasks that first of all we don’t care to do anymore, like updating compact databases or maybe ordering new inventory. These kind of more routine tasks and processes are going to be automated more and more.”
AI has quietly been part of the consumer experience for a number of years now, such as algorithms recommendation engines, but it’s starting to “take on more and more of the tasks that we simply can’t do,” Koenig added. For example, “write enough code to program a self-driving vehicle to anticipate and handle every ostensible advantage on the roadway, as well as more revolutionary applications where we as humans need all the help we can, like finding a cure for cancer.”
As the CES panel on the future of work in an AI world will no doubt discuss, in the best case scenario AI will work with humans instead of replacing them, automating onerous processes and freeing up people’s time for other, more important matters—or just for having fun and trying new experiences, which the AR/VR/AI-ready vendors at CES will be vying to bring to them.