At CES, it's no secret that artificial intelligence (AI) powers much of the emerging technology on display in Las Vegas this week -- as well as the technology many of us already use day-to-day.
At yesterday and today's CES media days -- the two days when press and analysts get a first look at what's to come at this week's largest consumer electronics show to take place each year -- AI has dominated several presentations and discussions. And where it's hasn't, it's lingering in the background, standing as a silent, unsung hero that powers what is predicted to become some of the most important developments in technology.
At the 2019 CES Tech Trends to Watch presentation, for instance, AI was frequently mentioned as a key factor in the success of such emerging technologies as self-driving cars, smart home devices, and voice-assistant-powered smart speakers.
It's AI, after all, that teaches these things how to replicate human skills and interaction -- which was central to this morning's presentation on The AI Outlook, delivered by Consumer Technology Association (CTA) Senior Research Analysts Sayon Deb and Steven Hummel.
From consumer impressions to expert insight, here's what they had to say about the outlook for AI in 2019.
One of the first things Deb and Hummel spoke to were certain mistaken notions of AI that they've observed in their research.
First, they said, the capabilities of AI are often overestimated -- with some holding the impression that the technology is able to execute more tasks than what's realistic.
What AI is actually capable of doing is "very task-specific and very purpose-built," said Deb, "and only scratching the surface for what we can do [with AI] in the future."
The second misconception is that "AI is magical" -- that is, AI is less a product of science, and more an extraordinary technology to marvel at.
But when thinking about AI, Deb encourages those who consider a work of magic to "look underneath the hood," and see that what actually powers AI is "algorithms and mathematics" -- which learn from human behavior to replicate and automate certain tasks, which were discussed later in the presentation (more on that below).
Finally, the third major AI misconception is that "AI will turn against us," conjuring memories of such classic films as Space Odyssey, in which a robot named Hal eventually learns to outsmart and betray its human counterparts. According to this morning's presentation, that reality is unlikely -- though how the outcome will be prevented was not specifically addressed.
A fourth, "unofficial" AI misconception also arose, which is that "AI is a job killer," as Deb phrased it. To the contrary, he explains, AI is "reshaping the job market," creating three core human roles.
How AI Could Reshape the Job Market
Hummel explained that, rather than eliminating jobs, it's projected that AI will create three key categories of new jobs
Trainers are the humans that teach AI-powered machines how to communicate with humans. A good example of where this type of training might play a vital role is in natural language processing (NLP), which helps AI like voice assistants not only speak more naturally to the humans that use them -- but also, how to understand the context and connotations of what a human is saying, depending on how something is phrased or the tone with which it is spoken.
A somewhat self-explanatory title, explainers are humans who help those in non-technical roles understand how AI works, what it's designed to do, and the roles played by the aforementioned items "under the hood" -- like algorithms -- to help AI function seamlessly.
The "explainer" job function is likely to become increasingly crucial as AI begins to permeate -- not replace -- more day-to-day tasks in the workplace. For example, if AI is able to automate a tedious task that previously required human execution, it's the responsibility of the explainer to shed light on why that role was automated, the benefits of it, and how that automation works.
Finally, sustainers are the humans who work to ensure that AI algorithms are maintained to work properly -- in a way, like anyone responsible for overseeing the maintenance and functionality of any other machinery -- as well as responsible, and reliable.
It's this final role that most audibly speaks to the overarching responsibility of all three newly-created job functions: that AI remains, as Hummel explained, "reliable, responsible, and ethical.”
AI's Consumer Impact and Trust
AI's Impact Expectations
According to research conducted by today's presenters, consumers expect to feel the impact of AI in four key areas:
- Science, research, and development
- Energy Use and Environment
Some emerging technologies that come to mind upon seeing this list are self-driving cars, which use AI to replicate (safe, if properly functioning) human driving skills and processes -- as well as items like machine-taught, voice-assistant-enabled kitchen faucets that know when to shut off, or can be told to do so by humans, such as Kohler's Sensate faucet that debuted at CES Unveiled last night.
Kohler's Sensate smart faucet was named a CES® 2019 Best of Innovation Awards Honoree
But there are also four areas where consumers expect to feel the least impact of AI:
- Personal finance
- Entertainment and content creation
- Travel, hospitality, and leisure
However, according to today's presentation, it seems that the experts disagree with consumers on where the most impact will be felt.
AI is said to have had quite an impact on healthcare -- presenters alluded to a study that allegedly found 379 orthopedic surgery patients who were able to receive better treatments when the procedure was performed done with an AI-assisted robots, with five fewer complications when compared to only-human-performed surgeries.
But when it comes to education, personal finance, and travel -- experts are what the presenters called "much more bullish." In finance, many institutions are already using AI cloud technology to develop consumer products, while in travel, AI is being utilized to provide users with more personalized recommendations, as well as faster service response times when a human isn't available.
Trust in AI
This dichotomy between consumer and expert expectations of how the impact of AI will be felt very possibly comes down to the level of trust that people have in the technology -- and could be explained by the ides that, as Deb said, "Consumers are more open to AI performing low-risk tasks" -- such as household chores or providing workout recommendations.
Industry experts, on the other hand, seem to think that "AI will change the future of everything," said Deb.
Humans + Machines
Again, the idea of how AI will contribute to new job functions enters the picture when considering these impressions of the technology among consumers.
Such "objective" tasks as the aforementioned low-risk household chores are a better fit for AI, whereas “subjected tasks that are better suited to us" -- meaning humans -- said Deb.
In other words, and as the presenters reiterated: AI is not a replacement. Rather, they said, "it’s an augmentation and enhancement of what humans can do, giving humans higher-level more subjective and creative roles."
As the second of this week's Media Days progresses, the further integration of AI in major product releases in announcements will be of particular interest to observe -- and the impact it will have on day-to-day at life, at home, on the road, and beyond.