Ubi is the latest darling of the Internet of Things (IoT), a device that plugs into any power point, connects to your wireless, and then starts listening, learning, and managing your life for you. It’s another step down the path of increasingly smart machines in a coming flood of devices powered by various levels of Artificial Intelligence (AI), interestingly, Ubi is likely to be the first device that may control all the smart devices in your home, the master of the smart house as it were.
Ubi is in beta still but delivers basic functionality now with the promise of a lot more to come. Think of it as Siri or Cortana, hands off, always on, in your home. You speak to it and ask it to do things for you and Ubi then sets about carrying out those instructions. For example, you can ask it to message people, set a timer (though at $299 USD it’s an expensive egg timer), do Internet searches, and like Cortana, it promises to learn over time.
In the future, Ubi will be able to connect to all your other smart devices in your home including thermostats, smoke and carbon alarms, lights, cameras, and the like. It will be able to take information from those devices and talk to you about how you want to manage them. It will allow you to set alerts so that Ubi can contact you if you left the toast in the toaster as you went out the door. It is likely to replace your home phone as well. Ubi can manage that simply enough.
Ubi represents a slightly different version of AI, something that is being pushed very hard by Google. Rather than AI, it is Augmented Intelligence (or Intelligence Amplification). That is, a device or service that makes you smarter. Consider Google brain as it stands today then super-charge it.
Google brain is the effect that Google is having on more and more of us where, because we know that Google (the Internet) holds the answer to our question, we no longer remember it. Rather, we search Google when we need that information.
Augmented Intelligence is an extension of that effectively, whereby using devices (sub as Ubi) we will be able to ask increasingly complex questions and get answers back in real-time. Eventually, as those agents learn, they will be able to anticipate what we need. For example, we’ll be alerted to traffic conditions each morning, or when we meet someone in the street who’s name we have forgotten, Google will remind us. That information will be overlayed in augmented reality (Google Glass), offering an actual digital view of the world.
It’s a slightly worrying thought that a single company like Google has already stolen the march on this technology, with Google brain. In the wrong hands the technology is terrifying. If in a couple of decades we simply forget everything that we know in lieu of relying on Google telling us instantly, then two nightmare scenarios present themselves.
What if it stops working? How many of you can still read a physical map? How many of you actually own a physical map? How much of your life is already digital? What do you do to find that information?
The other scenario is that whomever provides that information that you are consuming can change it. Or worse, delete it. So if you live in China then Falun Gong is scrubbed at the Internet border. Which means that it simply doesn’t exist. You could edit all kinds of information and people simply would never know, given they trust that the Internet is accurate.
Artificial Intelligence itself is at least publicly, thought to have the same level of intelligence as a four year old child. On one hand that is quite an achievement, on the other, would you want a four year old child running your city’s traffic management? Tongue in cheek of course.
Of course, the truth is likely that AI is much smarter than that with hundreds of millions of dollars being poured into research projects, including by DARPA, tones of Skynet there.
What is certain is that we are going to see a lot more products like Ubi starting to appear at the consumer end of the market. The Internet of Things from that perspective has to be a multi-billion dollar market in the making. Couple that with increasingly smart machines, learning machines, and the future is looking decidedly sci-fi.