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GfK’s Tech Trends 2016 explores the latest advances in technology and examines their implications for consumer needs and behaviour. One of the burgeoning technologies covered in the report which will undoubtedly unearth new opportunities for marketers and consumers alike is artificial intelligence. Here is what GfK has to say on the topic.


Home cube, Power Badge, RankBrain, Hound. You might not recognize these terms today, but in 2016 and beyond they could become part of the consumer tech vocabulary. According to the Financial Times (FT), “The artificial intelligence (AI) stampede has become one of the hottest trends in start-up investing since the ‘Big Data’ slogan launched a thousand entrepreneurial dreams.”[1] With major players including Apple, Facebook and Google investigating this space, the FT’s comment is no exaggeration. In fact, AI has the potential to disrupt everything – from the lives of connected consumers to every industry.


The ultimate AI recreates the human thought process. A man-made machine, it has our intellectual abilities: learning, reasoning, using language and formulating original ideas. That is the ultimate AI, though, and while this will be possible at some point in the future, there is little evidence of the full execution of AI coming anytime soon. However, early forms of AI based on machine learning are increasingly infiltrating our lives. Amazon uses it to suggest products; Netflix to recommend movies; Facebook and Twitter to choose what posts to show. Plus there’s voice command services including Siri,GoogleNow, Cortana and, most recently, Amazon Echo.


The latter is particularly interesting because it can distinguish between commands and general background noise. This technology could become a critical springboard for other developments in the space – for example, as a voice-activated home automation control, a way to order products and a link to cloud services.


In 2016, we expect AI assistants to take the significant step of evolving beyond smartphones. For example, the Home cube and Power Badge platforms will enable connected consumers to have their personal assistant at home and on the move. This software is sophisticated. Cubic, which represents a new frontier in digital assistants, can connect with and operate all the devices, apps and services in the connected consumer’s life: their smartphone, smartwatch and car. The smart home and its appliances may be next.


RankBrain from Google brings AI into yet another sphere: marketing. It improves Google’s ability to return accurate searches for more conversational or ambiguous queries and examines search behaviour to “learn” how to perform better searches. And there’s Hound, with its Speech-to-Meaning capability. Could it be the new way to search and perform tasks faster without typing?


And let’s not forget Apple and Facebook. Machine learning is already a big part of Apple’s “intelligent assistant” Siri and there’s evidence to suggest that the company is investing heavily in this space, albeit quietly. In the second half of 2015, Apple acquired a small UK-based AI business, VocalIQ. A speech-related AI company, VocalIQ uses its technology as a core component in the delivery of the Internet of Things. Facebook is more openly supportive of AI, and has assembled two teams of AI experts. The first is focused on products, the other tasked with carrying out academic research within Facebook.


One of the company’s key products is its own virtual assistant ‘M’, currently being trialled in San Francisco.


Speech recognition is also a key focus in AI. What’s interesting is how different these applications are and how the players have opted to follow their own unique directions. AI has so many possible uses that it is a market waiting to be explored and exploited.


Our analyst, Anne Giulianotti, says:


“The ultimate artificial intelligence might be a long way off, but we are increasingly going to see the impact of machine learning on our lives, influencing our decisions and purchases. For connected consumers, AI presents even more opportunities for brands to reach them with relevant messages and recommendations. For brands, there is the chance for a dialogue with consumers that builds trust. Right now, brands should be focusing their efforts on monitoring and assessing the market impact of AI.”


Read the full report here.


[1] The Financial Times, January 4, 2015, Investor rush to artificial intelligence is real deal.