The Human Interface: What We Expect From AI at CES 2020

We’re not going to lie: the annual “heads up CES” piece on artificial intelligence is a major exercise in hit or miss. This is because technology rarely evolves on an annual time scale, and certainly not advanced technology like AI. Yet, here we are once again. Sure, 2019 was as fruitful as it gets in the AI research community. The raw debate between Neural Networks Extremists (those pushing for an “all neural nets all the time” approach to intelligence) and the Fanatical Symbolists (those advocating a more hybrid approach between knowledge bases, expert systems and neural nets) took an ugly “Mean Girl” turn, with two of the titans of the field (Gary Marcus and Yann LeCun) trading real insults on Twitter just a few days ago. 

In the end, nobody truly knows what the best route is to comprehensive AI applications. And despite some serious progress, especially in the field of natural language processing and text synthesis (OpenAI’s GPT-2), the whole field is still struggling to find ways to transcend neural network-based learning architectures and create more contextually “intelligent” machines. It’s been almost 10 years since deep learning started rocking our world, so while the AI Winter is not coming, it sure is getting a bit nippy.

This is particularly relevant to CES this year, because — just like last year and the years before — we’ve consistently observed a widening of the gap between lab-based breakthroughs (year-around sensational research output) and real-life applications (aggressively lame consumer robots). 

So, yes, we’re bracing for the usual eye-roll marathon of gimmicky robots and hyped-up Alexa-ready home and health devices. CES AI is, after all, more an exercise in storytelling and marketing than technological breakthrough. 

But, reading between the lines, we’re also holding space for two truly interesting developments: (1) the chance to witness true progress in autonomous vehicles (Waymo, in particular, is rumored to have a few tricks up its sleeve), and (2) the expression of this year’s diffuse but real — and fascinating — focus on the AI-human interface, including user experience, human-machine interaction, and of course bias. 

We predict that design is going to become one of the hottest areas of growth in the AI field over the next few years. And among the handful of panels and events related to the topic at CES, we’re particularly intrigued to hear Andrew Hill (Director, UX, Data & AI for Mercedes-Benz R&D) speak on the “AI Assistants and Every Day Life” event, January 6, 9:00-10:00 am. 

We’ll be there to cover and dig deep.