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Amazon iRobot play takes ambient intelligence efforts to next level

LARKSPUR, CALIFORNIA - AUGUST 05: Roomba robot vacuums made by iRobot are displayed on a shelf at a Bed Bath and Beyond store on August 05, 2022 in Larkspur, California. Amazon announced plans to purchase iRobot, maker of the popular robotic vacuum Roomba, for an estimated $1.7 billion. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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What’s Amazons $1.7 billion acquisition of iRobot, the maker of the favorite Roomba vacuum, really about?

At Amazons Alexa Live 2022 event in late July, there have been clues once the company outlined its general technique for enabling ambient intelligence or making AI-powered technology available with no need for users to understand how exactly to operate something.

Some companies have a vision for technology thats rooted in phone apps or in a VR headset, Aaron Rubenson, VP of Amazon Alexa, told VentureBeat in July. Our goal would be to build technology which allows customers to invest more time considering the planet and getting together with people.

In those days, a few weeks before announcing its acquisition of iRobot, Rubenson used Roomba for example of ambient intelligence.

Alexa got its start, he explained, by giving an answer to users uttering a voice command to accomplish something. The present day Alexa service goes beyond that to anticipate just what a user may want through hunches, and enabling those hunches with routines.

One of these of the concept, he added, is robotic vacuum maker iRobot, which uses hunches to investigate the usage patterns of users to recommend a routine which will optimize the cleaning process.

Among the hallmarks of ambient intelligence is that its proactive, Rubenson said.

Given those comments, its no real surprise that lots of believe Amazons vision of moving toward ambient intelligence reaches the center of the iRobot acquisition and keep maintaining that exactly the same will additionally apply to previous acquisitions, like the electric doorbell company Ring.

Roomba creates maps of homes

Roomba creates a map of one’s internal space, which it sort of must do to carry out its job, said Ben Winters, counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and leader of EPICs AI and Human Rights Project. If you believe of that in conjunction with a Ring doorbell, spending habits, home network activity, all of your Foods order, its this next degree of having an capability to know everything about not only what your habits are, but about your house.

In accordance with Brad Porter, former Amazon VP of robotics and cofounder of Collaborative Robotics, any knowledge Amazon gains from iRobot data is approximately its concentrate on robotics and consumer devices.

While other big tech companies are heavily centered on the metaverse, Amazon is deeply centered on physical interaction with real life through robotics the couple of robotics investments in other big tech companies seem much less focused, he said. Amazons experience deploying robotics in real life has already been a competitive advantage that may likely increase with this particular acquisition.

Ethical AI issues around ambient intelligence

Some experts cite ethical issues round the drive toward ambient intelligence. Triveni Gandhi, responsible AI lead at AI platform Dataiku, said the constant listening and monitoring required by devices for data collection isnt always clearly communicated and rarely offered being an opt-in choice.

How is this data stored securely, who has usage of it, how could it be, subsequently, used to teach and build other unrelated models or products? she said. The answers to these questions tend to be difficult to find, and actually many users unknowingly start the rights with their data without understanding the entire effects of that.

The next issue, Gandhi continued, is that ambient intelligence, especially in the enterprise, can make a feedback cycle that may prevent innovative methods to new problems.

Automating background tasks is really a useful facet of everyday AI, nonetheless it works a lot more effectively when it’s at the mercy of monitoring and retraining, she said. Ambient AI, while promising, may create blind spots predicated on existing biases in data, which explains why human oversight and assessment of model outputs is essential. she explained.

Amazon, iRobot and data privacy

However, Porter remarked that large tech companies have significantly more to lose should they lose customer trust around data privacy and, consequently, they will have stronger, older safeguards around data privacy and data protection.

Without knowing the existing quality of the safeguards iRobot has set up, but just predicated on Amazons typical pattern of post-acquisition investment, I expect Amazon will invest significantly in further strengthening the safeguards around any customer data iRobot collects, he said.

But EPICs Winters wasnt so sure about Amazons data privacy efforts in the wake of the iRobot acquisition.

They understand that they’re creepy-sounding to numerous people plus they know they arent likely to win those individuals over, he said. I dont think they care that much concerning the type of general consumer sentiment from people who are really worried about Amazon obviously you can get rid of your Roomba, however the more of the acquisitions [related to] people living their lives, the less choice folks have and the more various things [Amazon] could do with [them].

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