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5 Takeaways from CES: AI Everywhere and the Intelligence of Things

The world is getting smarter—and as prototypes become reality, evidence emerging from the Consumer Electronics Show points to five key trends set to drive an intelligent, connected future.

Less than two decades into the 21st century, most people in the developed world already take internet for granted, said Steve Koenig, vice president of research for the Consumer Technology Association.

The digital age, circa 2000, was superceded by the connected era that began around 2010. Now as 2020 looms on the horizon civilization is entering the data age of consumer tech, Koenig explained.

This reliance on data unlocks new possibilities and capabilities in virtually every facet of our lives.

AI everywhere

Artificial intelligence (AI) is baked into virtually everything today, so much so that Consumer Technology Association vice president of market research Steve Koenig declared AI “the biggest and most omnipresent trend” at CES.

And he didn’t exaggerate. From speakers and televisions to automobiles and washing machines, numerous next-gen gadgets and gizmos feature integrations with Amazon Alexa and/or Google Assistant. Even a new $7,000 Kohler commode comes with Alexa functionality built-in—perhaps so you can re-order toilet tissue the moment it runs out.

AI’s inroads into consumer homes and vehicles means people will expect—nay, demand—Alexa-like ease of interaction in their shopping experiences, too. New York City’s Bottlerocket Wine & Spirit store got an early jump on the action, launching in February the Bottle Genius powered by Smart Aisle to help customers make the right whiskey selection through a curated interaction with Alexa. BevMo, another wine and spirits retailer, picked up the tech in several of its stores. Developed by The Mars Agency, the Bottle Genius incorporates an Amazon smart speaker affixed to a store shelf. Signage prompts customers to start the interactions, with Alexa guiding them with queries designed to find out the intended recipient, desired price point and other variables.

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“When you’ve got 140 job openings for every 100 people in the United States, you’ve got people who used to work in car washes now working in telemarketing systems and selling whiskey in stores at retail, you need to do something to enhance the experience and make the retail experience better,” said Ken Barnett, global CEO for shopper marketing group The Mars Agency.

IoT: It’s the Intelligence—not the Internet—of Things

Expect artificial intelligence to get even smarter and respond by sensing environment and context. Consumer Technology Association vice president of research Steve Koenig restated the definition of IoT as the Intelligence of Things—not the Internet of Things that we’ve all come to know. He used the example of Google’s Night Mode camera feature in Android, launched just months ago. Night Mode takes better pictures in dim light or darkness but the user must enable this feature manually. Koenig said future intelligence means the camera would automatically detect low light settings and switch to Night Mode itself.

How this looks for retail and the supply chain remains to be seen, but intelligent connectivity and automation could help businesses save energy and time, accelerate decision-making and provide the intuitive experience consumers are looking for.

At your service: automation and robotics ramp-up

From Cruzr to Walker, humanoid bots were everywhere at CES, pointing to a future where these devices will relieve humans of the heavy lifting in many daily tasks.

But some companies are looking at other ways to use automation to facilitate people’s daily lives. Rover Speed makes a robotic luggage that follows the user around without them having to pull it, and has also produced prototypes for Shoppal, what it describes as a “shopping robot” that automatically detects a user’s movements and totes their purchases for them. The company said it sees shopping centers or individual stores renting out these gadgets so shoppers don’t have to lug their wares from one store to the next. Walmart, Rover Speed noted, is interested in trialing the bots.

How self-driving cars will disrupt commerce

A future in which most people leave the driving to the vehicles is still a ways off, but many auto makers already think they know what consumers will want to do when they don’t have to have their eyes glued to the road.

Honda was among several car companies showing off automated driving systems that free up passengers to pass the time by shopping for clothing, shoes and more. Much of the in-vehicle commerce capabilities in development focus on where to refuel, both gas and food-wise, but self-driving vehicles could prove to be a huge win for retail when auto giants and their partners perfect technologies that let shoppers browse and virtually try on relevant products.

Alexa in everything (and Google Assistant, too)

Alexa is breaking free from the confines of her Amazon-produced black boxes and showing up everywhere from cars to commodes. CES proved that tech is getting smarter and that apparently, people want the simplicity and ease of speaking to their gadgets instead of pressing buttons (though that option remains, of course). The number of products that have Alexa and Google Assistant integrated is on the rise, reaffirming Koenig’s assertion that brands and retailers not developing skills for digital voice assistants are already behind the curve.