Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own. The author is a Forbes contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer. Over the holiday, I spent a great afternoon at the Boston Museum of Science, which is currently running an exhibition called "Da Vinci – The Genius." The exhibition brings to life the genius of Leonardo da Vinci as an inventor, scientist, engineer, architect, sculptor, and artist.
Since its founding nearly 15 years ago, Sonos has amassed a devoted following among audio enthusiasts for its high-end, WiFi-connected speakers. But now its business is endangered by a new breed of speakers powered by artificial intelligence assistants from the likes of Google and Amazon. They're starting to eat into the company's bottom line. In the midst of that change, Sonos cofounder John MacFarlane is stepping down as CEO after leading the company since 2002. Sonos president Patrick Spence will be taking over as CEO.
We're two days out from the tech-filled extravaganza that is the Las Vegas Consumer Electronic Show, an epic display of wealth, gadgetry and bling to an audience of 150,000 people. Drones have their own wing of the event now, and a number of companies were displaying drones aimed directly at consumers. Leaving aside the growing business market for these models, I've taken a look at some of the most interesting options in the consumer space. Some can be classified as toys, some as aerial selfie sticks, but if this market gets traction, it will greatly increase the public support for business usages, so it's a carrot-stick-carrot approach. Drones are big business, predicted to be worth billions in the next decade.
Waymo CEO John Krafcik speaks at a press conference at the 2017 North American International Auto Show in Detroit on Jan. 8, 2017. Waymo, the company born from Alphabet's Google Self-Driving Car research project, is designing and building all the sensors, radar and computers used in its automated test vehicles, along with the artificial intelligence programs that control everything. Yet to make its technology affordable for commercial use, it anticipates a manufacturing alliance as it looks ahead to mass-scale production of components, according to Chief Executive Officer John Krafcik. Waymo this week at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit revealed that the latest generation of its hardware and software is being used on Chrysler Pacifica minivans that begin road tests this month. A total of 100 of the vans are getting radar, sensors, cameras and laser Lidar units for 360-degree, high-definition images of a vehicle's surrounding, all made by Waymo.
World-renowned global futurist Dr. James Canton envisions hotel experiences that include supersonic travel and DNA-driven spa treatments, so what can we expect in the next decade? Canton, a former Apple Computer executive, author and social scientist, worked in conjunction with Hotels.com, to present the Hotels of the Future Study at a recent conference in San Francisco. In the study he describes hotels with everything from RoboButlers and virtual reality entertainment to hotel restaurants based on gourmet genomics and the emergence of neurotechnology to make sleep more refreshing. Canton, who has advised three White House Administrations and over 100 companies, believes these megatrends will shape the future of the hotel experience and that the RoboButler is the change we will most likely see first. Although, he also notes that plans are already underway for a supersonic hyperloop route from Los Angeles to New York City.
Following on from the discovery of Samsung's Bixby AI assistant, the South Korean company has provided more evidence that the service will be available in the near future. As part of promoting Samsung Pay on its own website, Samsung's webmasters uploaded a picture detailing three options on how to pay for goods: "Shopping, Mini, and Bixby". 'Bixby' is believed to be a voice-powered digital assistant (see here on Forbes). The assistant is expected to be used by all of Samsung's first-party applications, including the Samsung web browser, Samsung's PIM software and as is now apparent Samsung Pay. It's not clear yet if Bixby will ship with the upcoming flagship handset, although it's the sort of service that feels like a great fit to promote alongside the launch of the Galaxy S8.
I mostly leave coverage of astronomy topics, such as last week's meeting of the American Astronomical Society, to colleagues like Ethan "Starts With a Bang" Siegel, Jillian Scudder, Bruce Dorminey and Brian Koberlein. They have the professional expertise to understand and interpret the real science results, where I have only a casual interest in most of those stories. I'll make an exception, though, for a story from last week's conference, because it's more relevant than most to my interests. The constellation Cygnus, with a red dot indicating the location of the star that astronomers say will go nova in 2022. A year or two ago at a conference, I remember talking with Matt Walhout, who was the grad student immediately before me at NIST, and built the apparatus I did my Ph.D. work on, and he mentioned an ongoing project by one of his colleagues at Calvin College who was monitoring a binary star that they expected to explode in the near-ish future.
Nokia is exploring the digital AI assistant space with a service called Viki. The details come from a European trademark application by Nokia Solutions and Networks Oy which describes Viki as "software for the creation and monitoring of mobile and web digital assistants working with knowledge and combining all data sources into a single chat and voice based interface." Speaking to Engadget's Jon Fingas, a Nokia spokesperson said "Nokia registers trademarks from time to time but we don't comment on how, whether or when they may be used for Nokia products or services." Although the rise of voice-powered digital assistants is tied in heavily to smartphones, there is no indication that Viki is going to make an appearance on a device in the near future. The recently announced Nokia 6 may carry the name of the Finnish company, but that name was licensed to HMD, along with access to a number of key patents.
The machines haven't taken over. However, they are seeping their way into our lives, affecting how we live, work and entertain ourselves. From voice-powered personal assistants like Siri and Alexa, to more underlying and fundamental technologies such as behavioral algorithms, suggestive searches and autonomously-powered self-driving vehicles boasting powerful predictive capabilities, there are several examples and applications of artificial intellgience in use today. However, the technology is still in its infancy. What many companies are calling A.I. today, aren't necessarily so.
Welcome to the new age of robotics, just like Rocky 4. (Photo credit: Joe Jones) While most of us in the tech industry were tweeting and fawning over the latest innovations in virtual reality, augmented reality, self-driving cars and mobile phones revealed at CES 2017, there was much more going on in the crowded convention center. In the dark corners, the back aisles and next to the bathrooms, there was tech just aching to be uncovered and praised. CES is a place for discovery and while we could focus on the big ticket items like everyone else, there is much more fun to be had outside the main aisle. With the help of my intrepid on-the-ground reporter Joe Jones, these are a few of the things you might have missed at CES 2017 this year. They aren't big screen paper thin televisions, they aren't drones but they are certainly on the cutting edge of tech.