In the last 20 years, there have been many life-changing inventions. According to MIT Technology Review’s annual list of the most impactful technology, 3D metal printing, zero-carbon natural gas, and Google’s real-time translation earbuds were some examples in 2018. At fourth place was AI innovations that are accessible for the mass market, not just big tech companies that specialise in it.
Technology is bettering our lives to make it more convenient and time-efficient. Even though there might be some inventions that could possibly bring more harm than good, most of them are created with good intentions.
Besides the usual devices and technologies, more interactive items like robots have been invented to create a more immersive experience. With more and more creations, expectations have increased and people now demand engaging and authentic experiences.
AI Innovations #1: Store Robots
In order to cut costs and have a fresher shopping experience, robots and smart screens have replaced some store processes. We know of the use of AI innovations in factories, but they are used in the frontlines too.
In Singapore’s retail scene, there are shops like Design Orchard that feature digital screens that serve customers by providing information, helping them make their purchases, and shortening waiting times.
One of the most interesting features at habitat by Honestbee is their robot collection centre. Customers are able to make their order in person or through the app, before pushing their cart into a drop-off area that sends it to the robot collection centre. They are then able to continue exploring without lugging around their shopping. At the end of the day, they scan a QR code and the robots find their bag and deliver it to them.
Such robots are also used in hotels and airports to reduce the amount of unnecessary manpower. It also makes for great playtime for kids. Hotel Jen has two smart robots, Jena and Jeno, who greet the guests at the reception. Guests are able to ask basic questions to find out more about their stay if the counters are full or if they do not wish to engage in a long conversation. Additionally, the robots also deliver room service to the guests, so that hotel staff can concentrate on more urgent tasks that require human attention.
Changi Airport is not unfamiliar with such devices, with Terminal 4 being extremely high-tech. Robots in the terminal not only answer questions, but can also guide guests to their gates. Service staff would not be able to do that because it would be too time-consuming – and it is way more difficult to program humans with multiple languages.
There are robots in some airports that work behind the scenes, too. Landing planes are identified by cameras and technology that allows them to monitor the planes. The auto bridge that allows passengers to leave can also operate without human intervention, thanks to laser technology. Automated vehicles unload baggage, while others process cargo or deliver food that was also packed by robots. Even the immigration process is high-tech now, with face, passport, and thumbprint scanners.
AI Innovations #2: Smart Home Assistants
“Alexa” and “Google home” are popular devices that make life at home easier. Not only are they voice activated timers, answer providers, and music players, they also provide companionship at home.
Similar to a personal assistant, home assistants are able to set reminders, alarms, and events. They can also activate applications for the user thanks to voice recognition. The replying system usually helps users get answers to calculation-based questions, the weather, and other queries.
Unfortunately, home assistants are unable to distinguish different voices. Loud sounds from outside or even your TV noise can activate certain tasks that you did not intend to. These false triggers have led to unauthorised purchases or accidental sharing of private information.
But they can do much more than that. With other smart electronics, these AI innovations in the form of home assistants can activate vacuuming, grocery shopping, and cooking. How? With an always activated microphone. Great to hear your requests with, and also to find out about your personal information. The access to user information allows companies to monetise and sell it, which is definitely common but still not any less risky.
AI Innovations #3: Online Crime Fighting
In order to tackle the rise of online predators from first world countries, Terre des Hommes, an international children’s rights charitable humanitarian organisation, created a computer graphic girl named Sweetie. Posing as a young girl from the Philippines, she went on webcam chats and spoke to child predators to help authorities track them down
With the help of AI, the team behind Sweetie was able to make her engage in multiple conversations. During these conversations, the programmers had to animate Sweetie accordingly, in reply to the chats.
Sweetie found over 1000 predators in 71 countries during a short span of 10 weeks. She has since retired, but maybe after further development, AI experts will be able to create another internet avatar to interact with less human supervision. This will largely increase the scale of the search and speed it up immensely. Despite its success, the American Interpol expressed their disagreement with Terre des Hommes’ approach. They believe that such sting operations should only be operated by authorities to provide proper execution, safety, as well as personal privacy. With the number of predators Sweetie was able to pinpoint based on information they voluntarily gave, many people think Terre des Hommes should be given recognition.
In the future, maybe other such companies can work with AI experts to target different internet criminals. AI also helps detect false internet payments and has helped banks and PayPal halve their amount of false alerts.
It definitely creates a safer online environment, but some people are concerned about their privacy as they do not know when, what, and how the AI scans their information. Those of minority races also feel that they could be falsely identified if there is a racial bias in the system, intentional or not.
Relying purely on AI innovations is not a solution either as criminals can outsmart the system by going to more secluded and unrestricted areas. Companies and employees might also miss crimes if they only rely on AI tools. Companies should educate their staff on how to deal with suspicious activity and work hand-in-hand with existing AI.
AI Innovations #4: Sophia
Developed by Hong Kong-based company Hanson Robotics, this social humanoid robot made her debut at the South by Southwest Festival in 2016 in Austin, Texas. Sophia was seen as a breakthrough for robot creations because they usually looked like metal scraps seen in movies like Star Wars.
Unlike the others, Sophia was modelled after Audrey Hepburn, with an ability to display human-like behaviour and over 50 facial expressions. With the use of AI, visual data processing, facial recognition, and voice recognition, she was able to make simple conversations on predefined topics. Her interaction skills make her a suitable companion at places like old folks homes and large parks.
Sophia was also granted Saudi Arabian citizenship, with her creators hoping to make her advocate for women’s rights. This will allow her to be in Saudi Arabia to make speeches and raise awareness on social issues. However, some women in Saudi Arabia are against it as she is not Muslim, does not wear a hijab, and is allowed to roam around freely without male supervision. Though the creation of Sophia might be able to spark some interest in specific talking points, it might be controversial to allow the AI robot to have more human rights than humans.
People are also worried about the consequences of such human-like AI innovations. In theory, these robots are supposed to be controlled by human beings to provide a different platform for connection, but some people wonder how effective the control is. If they were programmed to be able to think on their own, will they suddenly turn against humans like in the TV series “West World”? And if they are made to be super-human, what jobs would that leave for humans?
Experts who have reviewed Sophia also say that she is similar to a chatbot with a face as she does not have a unique AI code program that allows her to have deeper conversations with humans. Creating a human looking robot is a step forward for technology, but experts still think there is a long way to go. The Verge reported that Yann LeCun, Facebook’s head of AI, disagrees with Jimmy Fallon and Hanson for saying that Sophia was “basically alive”
In January last year, she was upgraded with the ability to walk. The constant improvement with robots such as Sophia will pave the way for a new form of communication in industries that lack manpower.
Some say that the key to developing an AI robot like Sophia is to teach her love. Doing so will hopefully prevent her from doing anything savage as it will humanise her and allow her to think with kindness.