The Rise of the Machines

Does your alarm clock know more about your day than you do? Wake up and find out how the rise of the machines is revolutionising our lives, and how the space year 2001 is here, today!

Digital assistants that knowingly skirt the line between snoopy digital detective, being your own mum, and, yes, straight up smart arse know-it-all, are now commonplace in our lives. They are examples of a digital data revolution based on so called ‘machine learning’. That is, a type of on-the-fly data analysis that basically predicts your future actions based on your current behaviour.

The concept is not particularly new (the term was first coined back in 1959). It’s only recently, however, that we’ve begun seeing it’s applications in our daily lives. Indeed, chances are, you have one of these little digital helper guys in your pocket right now. Maybe it’s sexy-voiced Siri. Or possibly, the more straight-faced Google app (real-machine-people-don’t-need-names – but if you must, just call me “OK Google”).

Alternatively, you might even have one in your kitchen. Amazon’s HAL-like Alexa culinary assistant/speaker thing is straight out of the future. Truly, the space year 2001 has arrived. If you’re not familiar with it, Alexa enables you to issue it voice commands. Through your voice, you can play music, spend money you don’t have on Amazon, and enquire where it is. Unconfirmed: whether Alexa responds to “What possessed me to do this?

Like Short Circuit’s Johnny 5, your digital assistant might be found immersed in the ‘input’ of your digital daily life. It’s quietly noting your interests from websites you visit, analysing actions in apps, or rapidly riffling through your emails, expertly extracting diary details. Ok, so at times this could give the uneasy impression that someone is rummaging through your bins, and discovering your life story by examining old receipts. If you feel a degree of unease about this (heed the warnings of chilling future docu-film Terminator 2 humanity!), you’re not alone. The potential benefits to your life, and your business, however, are exciting.

Often, the Google app seems to know more about our personal lives than we do. ‘Have you thought about booking a hotel in Brighton?’ it prompts, in reference to the short break we booked months ago and which had completely slipped our mind. What? Why? Oh yeah, I’m going away this weekend. Erm, just testing Google, I knew that – honest! Other times, it just can’t help playing the smart arse, flashing up the latest score for our favourite football team. Thanks a bunch Google, we were going to watch later.

As always, the amount of information we’re willing to give away about ourselves is proportional to the value you can get back from it. In exchange for geolocational mobile data and the contents of your email, from which Google might be better able to target you with advertising, you open up a world of augmented contextually useful data that can really be a godsend to our daily lives. Yet today, we’re merely scratching the surface.

What’s the traffic like on the way to work today? How long will the journey take? Do I need to take a coat with me? No need to search for this information – your alarm clock just told you as it was waking you up!

Increased integrations with third party apps using APIs, and the advance of the connected home offer tantalising glimpses of a potential world where, finally, a cup of tea might just be waiting for us when we get in through the door. Or, ok, perhaps it will help to customise your special offers for your customers, personalised as they walk through the door?

We think machine learning is pretty exciting. Today’s uses of it are likely to feel pretty primitive compared to what’s ahead of us. Come back soon for ideas on how you and your business might benefit from the machine revolution…

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