They say you can’t pick your family, which is a bit of a shame since I would probably go with more of a royal/Brangelina-in-their-golden-years vibe. For the most part, you are stuck with who you have consistently in your household.
In recent years, we’ve been allowing other people into the household as well. These individuals are somewhat different than our flesh and blood relatives. For one thing, they aren’t made of flesh or blood unless you have found a severely disturbing technology outlet.
These people go by the name of Alexa, Siri, and Google. They are the artificial intelligences that exists on our phones, tablets, and other connected devices. They are there to listen to us and to cater to all our needs, as long as they fit within one of the hundred or so pre-programmed features.
But no one ever asked us what type of AI we want. Much like our family, companies have simply introduced these virtual individuals into our lives without input beyond if we are willing to spend a couple hundred bucks for a disembodied voice that’s probably spying on us.
IKEA wants to change all that. They recently launched an AI survey to measure the different types of qualities that people want in their personal virtual assistant. The survey is still ongoing, but the results are already surprising.
IKEA and Tech
You might wonder what a company that is known for their Rube Goldberg inspired assembly and cute Swedish-isms has to do with artificial intelligence. In fact, this isn’t the first time the Copenhagen based company has dipped its toes into future technology.
Back in 2015, they spearheaded a look into the future of the kitchen. Employing a third-party design company, they set out to determine what the future held for at home cooks and starving, neglected teenagers all over the world. This resulted in a full-size prototype kitchen that included a pantry, table, sink, and personal cooking assistant.
The project was one of the first looks at a smart kitchen which blended traditional functionality with state-of-the-art IoT tech. The centerpiece of the project was their “living table,” a table that could offer guidance, recipes suggestions, or even cook your food for you.
Basically, IKEA is as afraid to dream about the future as it is to give you a table with only three legs. In other words, fear is not an option.
Their ongoing survey is a remarkable addition to current IoT and artificial intelligence research. For most research projects, the main concern is the technology itself. They look at how the technology could potentially be used in the future.
Consumer input doesn’t usually come into play for most new technologies until it’s ready to come to market. In other words, until a device looks like it can handle the rigors of daily use, most companies are more concerned with the mechanics and design rather than consumer input.
IKEA is conducting the survey to potentially shape their own avenue of research and development for the next few years. Beyond their own benefits, it also is a look into what consumers today think about AI technology and what they hope for in the future.
The questions of the survey are measuring a few different key aspects of AI. Among the more basic properties include whether an AI should be more humanlike or robotic, male or female, and how the AI should interact with the user.
So far, the results seem to indicate that people want something that is more human and gender-neutral. More so, they are looking for the right balance between an AI that is able to read a user and their needs without dipping into NSA-levels of privacy violations. Despite privacy concerns, an overwhelming number of respondents are okay with an AI collecting data to improve the experience, especially if the data is anonymous.
People want an AI that can read their emotions, to fill basic needs without being asked, and overall be obedient and assisting. One rather unique finding is that over three quarters of the current respondents would prefer an AI that could prevent them from making mistakes. Whether this means shutting your phone off before sending a drunk text or locking your doors before walking out of the house naked remains to be seen.
Artificial Intelligence in the Future
I find it interesting to see how people are thinking about the future of artificial intelligence at this most basic level. We are still far from the more traditional notion of AI rivaling us to take over the world, but these first few steps present many of the same issues and debates. Having an idea of the user input is an important component to the overall equation.
Perhaps we will see IKEA move forward with their own AI offering, which will probably require some assembly from a manual written in broken English. Even if consumers fail to see the value of an IKEA AI, the company would have a new AI to write their instruction manuals for them.
Being honest, an AI probably couldn’t do much worse than IKEA’s human translators.