A bot in every home – but how did it get there?

“A chicken in every pot, a car in every garage” was Herbert Hoover’s winning promise to American voters in the 1928 Presidential Election. Nowadays, as artificial intelligence advancements edge on, the promise may well have evolved to “a bot in every home, a self-driving car in every garage”.

In an article titled “A smart home is where the bot is”, McKinsey discuss what the smart home of the future might look like, using the analogy of the human central nervous system – an interconnected network of bots that will eventually enable us to (among others) do away with choice paralysis by delegating the more mundane of our household tasks.

In order to delegate tasks to bots, one must first have a bot in the home – and getting “a bot in every home” may not be as easy as it seems. Beyond their technical capabilities, to really be successful, bots will need to satisfy consumers – not just as an exciting latest-generation-but-ultimately-not-that-useful gadget, but as a long-term investment that adds value to their lives.

At Incite, we spend a lot of time talking to consumers about new technology. Here are some of the key considerations to take into account when developing bots for the home.

Be useful

Perhaps the most obvious place to start – for bots to find their way into our homes, they will need to deliver clear, tangible benefits. These need to go beyond minimal time-saving, or simple organisation. Most people don’t need another device to tell them what the weather is like, where their first meeting is, and how long it will take them to get there – most modern smartphones are already pretty good at this!

To earn the right to be present in our homes, bots will need to significantly improve our lives – to surprise and delight us with helpful suggestions, to make everyday life more seamless, to makes us say “a-ha!” when they provide a new solution to something we’ve been working around for ages. And to do this, bots need to…

Be clever

Offering suggestions that make sense, understanding what we like and don’t like and why, and learning not just from what we say, but also from how we say it. In short, it’s not just about IQ but also about EQ – a tall order even from some people, let alone an algorithm.

Achieving this will of course require an initial time and effort investment on users’ part – the key here will be to get the balance right. Too little investment, and not enough information will be acquired, leading to suboptimal performance. Too much investment required, and users are likely to lose interest – after all, bots are meant to save time and effort; few people want to spend the evening teaching their home bot new tricks, rather than their dog.

 

Be seamless

As consumers are becoming increasingly au fait with different technology providers, locking an entire household into one ecosystem may become increasingly difficult. This means that initially, at least, bots will need to be able to work with a wide range of other tech. Working seamlessly with other devices will allow home bots to make meaningful use of the information these other devices collect on the user – ultimately delivering a better all-round experience.

Be inclusive

“Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things”, Douglas Adams said, and indeed many might be tempted to say this would be particularly true for home bots. It doesn’t take an expert to see that devices such as Amazon Echo or Google Home are mainly targeted at young professionals. But to limit them to this group would be missing a trick – indeed, one area where home bots could really excel is in providing solutions for the elderly.

The possibilities here are quite diverse: from simply assisting those with reduced mobility with simple tasks such as their weekly shopping, to being used by the government and third sector organisations to provide a form of social interaction to those most in need of it – all at a relatively small cost (and perhaps a time investment from a ready and willing grandchild or social worker).

Be human

Perhaps the most delicate matter that needs to be addressed for bots to be successful is the matter of their humanity. As technology becomes increasingly entrenched in our lives, pushback against its presence is also becoming a bit of a cultural norm. “Switching off”, or even tech detox camps are becoming more popular, and people seem to increasingly be craving (or claim to be craving) human connection.

What does this mean for home bots? It’s about creating a sense of cosy-ness, of what the Dutch call gezellig, what the Danish call hygge. Home bots will need to do more than merely make one’s home life easier (although, as explained above, this is a minimum requirement) – they will need to make interacting with them enjoyable as well – whether it’s through cracking humour, using the right tone, or at least making sure there’s a cold Chablis in the fridge at the end of a day full of meetings.

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