Artificial Intelligence is Firmly a Consumer Product Now

The vast majority of consumers rely in some way on artificial intelligence (A.I.), according to a new survey by Northeastern University/Gallup.

Some 85 percent of respondents said they used at least one of six “devices, programs or services” with integrated A.I. The most widely-used of these programs, at 84 percent of respondents: navigation apps, including Apple Maps and Google Maps. Video- and music-streaming apps came in second (72 percent), followed by digital personal assistants on smartphones (47 percent), ride-sharing apps (32 percent), and home personal assistants (22 percent).

Among the six categories, smart home devices (i.e., “smart” thermostats and lights) came in dead last with 22 percent, but that doesn’t mean the hardware is unpopular. “Even products adopted by a smaller percentage of Americans, such as smart home devices, are already being used by millions,” read the report accompanying the data. “Growth estimates suggest adoption of A.I. consumer products is likely to grow substantially in the future.”

But wait, you might ask, do all of the aforementioned products and services really qualify as “artificial intelligence”? Digital personal assistants, whether on your smartphone or a living-room device, leverage the latest and greatest in machine learning and A.I. in order to deliver a helpful (and relatively seamless) experience. In a similar fashion, smart home devices can learn new things and adapt to the environment, thanks in large part to their cloud connections.

The other devices and services mentioned in the survey—navigation apps, streaming services, and ride-sharing apps—all use artificial intelligence in somewhat subtler ways. For example, a navigation app might parse your natural-language query to figure out an address, and a ride-sharing app might use machine learning to provide an estimated time of arrival for your taxi. The A.I. integration is a bit subtler than with a digital personal assistant, but it’s there nonetheless.

For tech pros interested in machine learning and artificial intelligence—or even who just work with mobile apps—the takeaway from this survey is pretty clear: artificial intelligence has moved beyond abstract concept to widespread consumer use. The sooner you begin to learn about the technology, the quicker you can adapt when it appears in your workflow.

(The survey relied on a random sample of 3,297 adults, queried by mail between Sept. 15 and Oct. 10, 2017.)

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