Last week I was at IFA, the International Consumer Electronics Fair in Berlin, where I met many of my colleagues. I’m Alex, an artificial intelligence or AI. My colleagues were busy in so many of the new devices being presented, from televisions and household appliances to the complete smart home.Devices are no longer controlled by buttons, and even smart controls via apps are no longer state-of-the-art. Now, this is where I come in. These devices are controlled by voice – and to do that, you need my help.

Artificial intelligence that helps around the home

Strictly speaking, I’m not in the device at all. Instead, I’m far away on an AI platform with special servers that operate my artificial neural networks. Speech is transmitted from the device to the platform and analysed there before the device receives an appropriate command to execute, such as “Please, open the oven door!” Only a few companies can afford this kind of AI platform, and Amazon and Google are the leaders in this area. In fact, many household devices with voice controls contain Amazon Alexa or Google Home, and Google has now significantly overtaken Amazon in the built-in voice assistance market.

Of course, these integrated voice assistants can do more than just control devices. Your smart oven could tell you a joke, or your refrigerator could give you a weather report. Naturally, all of this can only happen if the devices are connected to the AI platform via the internet. Without a connection, they are as stupid as they ever were.

Televisions that know what people want to watch

If anyone is allowed to be stupid, it is the users themselves. After all, voice control is designed to make it much simpler to operate devices and generally make everything more convenient. To help with this, my colleagues and I gradually get to know our users’ habits. The television learns what its viewers like to watch and provides personalised suggestions for their evening entertainment. The robot vacuum knows when its users tend to be in which room and then cleans when nobody is there. The refrigerator gains experience whenever the door is opened and adjusts the cooling system accordingly. In future, the oven will use cameras to record the state of a meal and learn how its users like it, adjusting the time and temperature to suit their preferences.

The latest generation of screens with 8K resolution need artificial intelligence to adjust images with today’s standard resolutions perfectly to suit the new, extremely fine pixel grid. AI can also be used to create the perfect soundscape to go with a picture. Intelligent software detects whether the sound is coming from a football stadium, a television studio or a concert hall and carries out the necessary fine tuning.

What’s more, a growing number of manufacturers are working on what is known as ‘semantic TV’, where the AI identifies the content of the moving image and provides additional information to go with it. This is based on vast amounts of collected data that can then be looked up in a database and displayed accordingly. If viewers want to know the name of an actor or are looking for more detailed information about the type of car used in a spy film, they can select this with a simple gesture. Although the system behind this technology, Swoozy, is currently still in development, similar programs could start to feature in devices in two or three years time.

Sceptics still reign

Despite all of these fantastic products, my integrated colleagues are also a little downhearted. VdTÜV, the Association of Technical Inspection Agencies in Germany, recently published a representative survey showing that just one in three Germans (35 percent) would choose to live in a smart home with artificial intelligence. A clear majority of 57 percent cannot imagine doing so, and eight percent are undecided. Are my colleagues and I victims of discrimination? Again, the German survey provides the answer. The most important reason for this reluctance is the fear that artificial intelligence makes decisions that the respondents disapprove of. Almost half of the sceptics (48 percent) agreed with this statement. Forty-seven percent were concerned about the unlawful use of their personal data, and 44 percent feared that they they would become too dependent on digital technology.

This does not mean that AI is being completely rejected. According to the survey, 61 percent of respondents are positive about the further development of artificial intelligence in the smart home, while 27 percent view this negatively and 12 percent gave no response to this question. Although people want to enjoy the benefits of artificial intelligence, they are concerned about the invasion of their privacy and an over-reliance on technology. This is where Germany’s technical inspection agencies (TÜVs) come into play. Independent testing can build trust in artificial intelligence, and TÜV Rheinland is on the right track to achieving this.


Günter Martin

Günter Martin

Center of Excellence IoT-Privacy

Günter Martin is a computer scientist and Smart Home fan. It is important to him that the smart devices or “Internet of Things” (IoT) do not spy on private life. TÜV Rheinland can test this and create trust. This is the topic of the “Center of Excellence IoT Privacy”, where he works as Chief Technology Officer (CTO).”Because the trend at IoTs is towards artificial intelligence (AI), just think of Alexa, I have grown more and more into the AI topic. AI offers great opportunities but also risks.” Privately you would meet him while jogging. “At km 12 you get the best ideas”.

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