The Biggest Tech Story of 2016 is Home AI

Home AI is shaping up to be a five way cage match among the tech world’s big 5: Microsoft, Apple, Google, Facebook & Amazon with Samsung’s Viv horning in and some odd, niche competitors like Japanese AI maker Gatebox thrown in for fun. The adoption rates for Echo in particular have been impressive. Amazon has sold 5.1 M Echo Home AI units in less than two years. Industry Analyst Activate says that Echo sales are in the same ballpark with early iPhone sales.

The most high priced (@ $2,600) of the Home AI offerings is Gatebox of Japan’s holographic schoolgirl who, according to the company’s promotional video above, acts a lot like the AI from the movie “Her”.

Some characterize user interfaces based on natural speech as the next major disruption in computing. Machine learning and the Internet of Things make it a technology whose time has come.

How Alexa Blew Me Away

Upon my voice command the Echo dot (named Alexa) can play you any song ever recorded, provide information, news, sports scores, weather, and more — instantly. If you have connected home devices through Nest or another system, Alexa will control them on voice command as well.

Echo Dot can hear you from across the room, even while music is playing. When you want to use Echo Dot, just say the wake word “Alexa” and Dot responds instantly. If you have more than one Echo or Echo Dot, Alexa responds from the Echo you’re closest to. But, as the short video snippet below hilariously illustrates, Alexa is far from perfect.

Alexa fail. Very awkward when home AI thinks your toddler just asked for porn.

Viv Jilts Apple for Samsung

At the risk of alienating the Apple advocates out there, and I hate to say it: Siri sucks. And the guys who created Siri — Adam Cheyer, Dag Kittlaus, and Chris Brigham — bailed from Apple after a couple of years to start another home AI, Viv, which was recently acquired by Samsung. Viv can process massive troves of data, teach itself, and write its own programs on the fly. In other words, Viv is what Siri should have become. This is a rare case of Apple failing to consolidate its first mover advantage. Someday someone will write a book about it.

Scorcese Siri ad from 2014. Turns out Siri does none of these things.

Google Home Is Behind

Google, like Apple and Microsoft, is throwing enough resources behind its home AI that it will eventually catch up to Alexa. Google acquired Nest in 2014 for the express purpose of developing IoT (Internet of Things). They’ve got some nifty Bose audio hardware built in, sparing no expense to make the Google home one of the best hardware deals. With their promise to improve the machine’s learning capability, it may well exceed other products in the near future. These companies move very slowly, but have the cash and patience to crush everything in their path. Just as there are many smart phones today, there may be many Home AI options tomorrow, as no one company will be able to consolidate the market the way the big 5 did in personal computing’s formative days (1990–2009), with Amazon dominating shopping, Apple disrupting music, Google creating real search, and Microsoft consolidating its control of personal computing and Facebook consolidating social media.

Right now, it’s Google v. Alexa

Here Come Microsoft & Facebook

Microsoft’s Cortana is bundled with Windows 10 and integrated into every new PC as Microsoft prepares to introduce its Home Hub.

Reportedly, Microsoft will voice enable Windows 10 PCs so the AI (named Cortana) would act like Amazon Echo and Google Home. With such integration, you will be able to wake up your PC with just a voice command. The updates will start rolling out in 2017.

Mark Zuckerberg’s just released his demo video for FB Home AI Jarvis (voiced by Morgan Freedman) promises to amaze us and it will, if Zuck’s demo video is half true.

Jarivs is also a pretty smart doorman.

Jarvis is a true multi-tasker: while Facebook is making your coffee, it is also teaching your toddler Mandarin.

Facebook is a company that is thinking really big about the future. With their acquisition of Oculus, FB showed they are playing a long game, making good use of their soaring stock price to acquire technology and talent to power the effort. Still, it going to be some time before FB achieves its ambitions.

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Is it worth it? Yes to today. Be afraid of tomorrow.

You Are Your Data

Like most consumers, I only have a vague idea how these devices do what they do. Some magic combination of my profiles, contacts, friends, profession, projects, posts, pictures, searches, reading, bookmarks, music, movies, cable television, the internet of everything and anything, and probably credit card transactions, are all stored somewhere in the cloud (?) where everything about me can be accessed instantly. There are very troubling privacy implications to this, which most of us will ignore at our peril to get yet another slice of computer magic in our lives.

There’s a good chance smart devices like Alexa will explode and become the consumer product success story of 2017. Happy New Year.

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