Atom and the Home of The Future

05 September 2018


Bridget Rosewell OBE
Bridget Rosewell OBE

What will the home of the future look and feel like, and how will our behaviours and attitudes change - if they do - as a result of ‘smart’ technology development? Why does a bank care?

These were the questions we debated at an exclusive event, hosted with News UK and Unruly, at their House of the Future in Whitechapel. We invited a select panel of experts and investors from across the tech and ecommerce industries, including our Strategic Board Advisor, to reflect, discuss and predict where current tech trends might take us.

The house of the future could be connected in many ways, and could collect immense amounts of data about you, your shopping and your living habits. Our discussion centred on how this can be controlled, owned and trusted by consumers - here are a few personal highlights:

  1. The voice shopping market is starting to take off Will we be relying on AI more and more to do our shopping for us? It certainly seems so.

With large corporations pressing for it to increase, the UK voice shopping market is set to be worth £3.5bn by 2022. Whilst there are valid concerns about what this might mean for privacy, data ownership and competition (more on these below), there are many aspects that will appeal to today’s time-short consumers.

Head of Tesco Labs Paul Wilkinson provided a couple of particularly interesting cases, which we discussed at length:

  • Spending less time on chores: shopping for essentials isn’t exactly how many people enjoy spending their time. Dishwashers which order their own tablets, by tracking energy usage and integrating with Alexa, could save you an annoying trip to the supermarket
  • Less food waste: do you feel guilty when you throw food out? Smart fridges (and fridge cams, currently in development) can scan what you put in the fridge, suggest recipes to use up almost out-of-date produce and add items to your shopping list when you run out.

There are many more examples that we didn’t touch on, so if you want to get a feel for what’s out there, head to Unruly’s web page and take a virtual tour.

  1. The tech is there, but we might not trust it

Whilst we might embrace the convenience AI offers, we’ll still want options to manage our own preferences - particularly who gets to access our data, how our data is being used and how to get it back. Artificial intelligence can improve our lives, but can we control who owns it? How do we check on the decisions being made on our behalf?

There were various levels of comfort with current AI technology, even among a panel of tech experts; these became apparent very soon into the discussion. As well as general privacy concerns - some people just don’t like the idea of their supermarket/bank/kitchen appliance company having so much access to their home space - we also considered:

  • Data privacy: who owns it, who can access it and where will it be stored? Will it be safe?
  • Who will the AI be working for?: this was a big issue for our panellists, who were keen that AI developed as a personal tool, rather than being run by brands to sell you products
  • A potentially challenging environment for smaller businesses: it’s probably going to be major corporations that benefit most from smart tech, which left us wondering about the future of smaller and independent retailers. It was particularly interesting to discuss whether the emerging backlash against corporate giants - particularly from younger generations - would hold up against the convenience AI-enabled shopping would offer
  • Lack of (current) regulations: generally regulation lags behind innovation - people invent things and policy makers play catch-up. There’s potential for both monopolisation and privacy issues if governments don’t act quickly enough.
  1. The internet will look very different in the near future

It was interesting to note that, whilst discussing voice-activated technology, we were still conceptualising the internet working like it does on our mobiles - so with the screens, search results and scrolling mechanisms that we’re all familiar with.

In reality, voice-activated tech has the potential to change how we access information and services online by shifting everything to a more conversation-based model. It’s conceivable, for example, that AI might be delivered to you via earbuds and that your interaction with it might feel more like a stream of thoughts than consciously-inputted search terms and keywords.

It’s impossible to say exactly how much of this will turn into reality, but we do need to start broadening our conception of how we might access this ‘personal AI’ in the future. The impact this will have on how we behave has the potential to be enormous - so we need to start planning now.

We are a bank, which means that trust, security and safety are our prime concerns. That’s why we’re thinking about how AI technology can help individuals stay in control, and get customer experiences and services that work for them, rather than for corporations.