It was Henry Ford who famously quipped, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” This sparked the debate on whether it’s better to innovate based on customer needs and wants, or to build the future based on the vision of the inventor. If you’d asked people what they wanted from their cars 20 years ago, they would’ve said things along the lines of eco-friendliness and speed. Few would’ve said, “I want a car that drives itself.” And yet, developments in artificial intelligence (AI) mean that future is on its way.

It’s estimated that by 2020, around 75 percent of the vehicles on American roads will be interconnected. Yours will interact with its surrounding environment. And to control all of this, we’ll have a personal assistant. This assistant will have a deep understanding of the car and an ability to meet all your car-related needs. It would answer any questions you have about your car, help schedule your next service, and even point out problem areas in the car. It would automatically work out the fastest route to the nearest gas station and make sure you took the optimal routes to ensure you get to that meeting on time.

And of course, it would do all of this for you, ensuring that you get to your destination timeously and safely. The assistant would even recognize when you need to concentrate and keep quiet to reduce distraction, or when you need to relax to your favorite playlist, switching the calming music on for you. Research even supports the idea that an automated assistant could consider other vehicles in the vicinity and use crash avoidance sensors to help regulate driving. It would monitor your attention and assess road conditions to adjust automated driving to support you during dangerous driving conditions.

“We’re well on the road to developing the empathetic car which might tell you a joke to cheer you up, offer advice, remind you of birthdays or help keep you awake on a long drive.” said Fatima Vital, senior director at Nuance Communications, which helped Ford develop a voice recognition AI assistant.

That’s right, voice commands like ‘I’m hungry’ or ‘I need coffee’ will trigger your assistant to find the closest restaurant or Starbucks to fulfill your needs. Currently, the system only responds to basic languages, but soon you’ll be able to speak using your own vocabulary, which the AI would’ve learned progressively.

Nuance suggests that within the next two years, voice controlled assistants like these could prompt you with questions like: “You’re running low on your favorite chocolate and the next store you pass has some in stock. Would you like to stop in and purchase some?” Future gesture, motion, and eye control sensors might also enable you to answer calls with the nod of your head, adjust the volume by twisting your fingers or set your navigation simply by glancing at your destination on the map.

Volvo’s director of connected products, David Holecek, summed the progression up well. “It’s not about bringing the internet and the connected world into the car; it’s about bringing the car into the internet and connected world.”

While critics have called this technology intrusive and a distraction to the driver, using technology in similar ways isn’t actually a new thing to people. One just has to look at texting and driving accident statistics to see that people try and interact with their phones or mobile devices while driving, all the time. This, of course, has its risks and protagonists of the technology believe that it’ll reduce this sort of dangerous behavior.
If you’re interested in how AI is benefitting other sectors with its convenience and support, then read our latest article. It outlines five ways in which AI is making waves in 2017 and beyond.

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