2017 was full of technological advances and introductions of cool new gadgets. A common theme among some of the most notable advances and new devices was the integration of artificial intelligence in smart and innovative ways. Despite a handful of flubs, AI-powered technologies still helped make the world a little smarter, kinder, and more innovative this year.
Here are some of the moments when AI really shone in 2017.
NASA’s discovery of two new planets
Earlier this month, NASA announced it used machine learning to discover two new planets. Researchers used old data from the Kepler space telescope to locate the two new additions to our galaxy. This wasn’t the first time researchers applied AI to sift through the massive amount of data NASA’s telescopes collect, but it is a promising example of how neural networks can find even some of the weakest signs of distant worlds. Thanks to AI, we have now discovered a planetary system that ties our solar system in the number of planets it has, which brings us one step closer to discovering more of the mysteries the giant void around us contains.
2017’s chatbots are smarter and easier to use than ever before. This year, you couldn’t throw a rock in Silicon Valley without hitting someone eager to talk about how chatbots are the future of customer care and corporate communication. Although 2017 was chock-full of chatbot releases, one standout was Resistbot. This AI-powered chatbot makes it as easy as possible to contact your political representatives. I think we can all agree this year has been all over the map politically. Resistbot provides an automated service to send letters and concerns to representatives — it allows the American people be heard. Thanks, Resistbot.
Leka Smart Toy
The Leka Smart Toy helps children with autism and other developmental disabilities interact with their teachers, caregivers, and peers. The toy, which made headlines in January, provides steady and predictable functions that help children connect and trust playing with the robot. The device is aimed at schools and therapy institutions to help children — and even some adults — develop interpersonal skills to facilitate learning. Caregivers can control the device or let it run in an autonomous state.
We’ve seen an abundance of tech advances this year that aim to automate and diminish problems that are somewhat trivial. The Leka Smart Toy took the road-less-traveled and utilized AI to make the world a better place for individuals facing developmental challenges. Sure, we all appreciate having the power to make hands-free online purchases and change the channel without a remote, but Leka and other smart toys serve a more meaningful purpose than some of the most popular digital assistants we saw in the news this year. Which brings us to the next impactful AI innovation in 2017, the advancement of smart speakers.
The advancement of smart speakers
OK Google, are you better than Amazon Echo? Smart speakers dominated the consumer technology market in 2017 — this is what the botpocolypse actually looks like, FYI. If you haven’t heard of Google Home or Amazon Echo, it’s possible you live under a rock. They were some of the top-selling holiday gifts this season thanks to their many capabilities that make everyday tasks easier for their owners. While it’s possible they are a little overhyped, it’s important to recognize the success they’ve had in bringing AI and smart home technology to the mainstream consumer market this year.
Amazon’s Alexa-powered devices provided some of the most useful innovations this year by making multiple tasks truly hands-free. In 2017, Amazon made it possible to change the content you stream on Netflix, track online purchases, make calls and send texts, play music in multiple rooms, and control your smart home devices — all using your voice.
Google also announced a few interesting innovations for its own smart speaker technology this year. The tech giant unveiled the Google Home Mini in October, which provides a smaller, more affordable version of its Google Home to compete with Amazon’s Echo Dot. The higher-end version of this smart speaker, the Google Home Max, also made its way to the market earlier this month. This iteration provides a better listening experience in larger spaces with a larger, higher-quality speaker.
It’s impossible to make a 2017 AI innovation list without including one amazing device *cough cough* the iPhone X. Apple added some incredible AI technology to their latest smartphone — just when we thought that smartphones couldn’t get any smarter. The release of the iPhone X didn’t disappoint. Fans jumped at the opportunity to drop $1,000 for the 5.8-inch screen. This phone is truly spectacular: It includes an infrared camera, a flood illuminator, a proximity sensor, an ambient light sensor, a speaker, a microphone, a front camera, and a dot projector. All of these powerful components work together to create the phone’s headline-generating features: Face ID, Portrait mode, and Animoji.
These five technological advances paved the way to create even more groundbreaking AI innovations in 2018. My humble plea is to see more of next year’s tech releases employ AI in an uplifting way beneficial for our world and the people who live in it.
Scott Bay is a digital journalist who reports on the latest technology trends, focusing specifically on travel, security, and AI.