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Smart Home Artificial Intelligence: Nest Was Just The Start

Smart homes aren’t really smart – at least, not yet.

Sure, lots of “smart home” devices respond to instructions we give them via an app or by voice commands – adding a new level of convenience to everyday life. We carry a wide selection of those smart home devices and accessories at Cmple.

Many now believe that voice-activated smart hubs like Amazon Echo and Google Home, now being used by about 60 million Americans, have truly introduced artificial intelligence into our living spaces.
Google Home
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Not so fast. It’s true that Alexa and her friends are capable of “learning” the voice commands they’re given, but they’re not really thinking on their own. That’s not a rigorous example of AI. The devices are simply adapting to the commands they’re given, applying pre-programmed algorithms and skills to (hopefully) respond more quickly and appropriately as time goes on. In other words, machine learning isn’t always the same as artificial intelligence.

And most of us have learned first-hand that the results aren’t always what we’d hope for. As highly-respected data analyst Seth Earley has observed, machine learning by smart home devices often involves “a human learning to talk to the machine, rather than the machine learning to interpret the user.”

Some smart home devices, however, do make use of true artificial intelligence.

The Nest Learning Thermostat

One of the original smart home devices was the Nest Learning Thermostat, and it’s still one of the best. Not only will it respond to the commands you give it, but after a week or so it learns your schedule and temperature preferences, and programs itself automatically.
nest learning thermostatImage credits

The Nest’s artificial intelligence component is even more impressive when you leave your house. The thermostat can use its internal sensors and check the location of your smartphone to know that the home is empty, and will change its temperature settings to more energy-efficient levels. (The Nest uses those same sensors to light up its display when you walk into the room.)

A smart hub that can call an Uber or tell you the latest headlines may boast a “wow” factor – but the Nest thermostat’s artificial intelligence is what’s truly impressive. You don’t always have to tell the device what to do. It learns what needs to be done, all by itself.
nest thermostat gen3 temp screen
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Nest has continued to add AI elements to its recently-released products, thanks to engineers at parent company Google. For example, the Nest Cam Outdoor security camera uses a feature called “Nest Aware” to provide what’s called advanced scene recognition. Artificial intelligence and facial recognition technology allow the camera to realize whether the creature wandering around the property is a deer or a human, and to make the appropriate notifications.

An even more advanced version, the Nest Cam IQ, works indoors and can differentiate between faces. If it sees an unauthorized person in the room it will immediately notify the cam’s owner via app. That’s AI.

The Future of Artificial Intelligence in the Home

The functions that Nest devices perform are just the start. Many companies are hard at work on creating a full-featured smart home environment that relies on artificial intelligence to a much greater degree.
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For instance, the British company AI Build is working on a system that has an array of six cameras mounted on the ceiling of every room in a house. The cameras allow the AI hub to learn the layout of the house and the residents’ natural movements and patterns – so that it will know when to turn on the lights or start the coffeepot, based on what it is observing in real time.

Alexa, Siri and the rest of the gang are cool. Sometimes, they can be helpful. But truly intelligent devices will eventually transform our homes in much more substantial ways.
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