Sales of voice assistant robots have finally taken off and made up nearly half of all service robot sales worldwide last year.
That's according to analyst TrendForce, which said that sales of Amazon's Echo speaker alone hit 5.2 million units in 2016.
TrendForce also predicted that advances in AI will soon mean that such technology can respond to users' emotions, habits and expectations.
The report comes shortly after Bill Gates weighed in on the AI debate in a blog post.
According to TrendForce, voice-based assistant robots accounted for 47 per cent of total service robot sales in 2016, ahead of robot vacuum cleaners on 40 per cent; education, entertainment and toy robots on 9.3 per cent; and other domestic service robots on 3.1 per cent. Professional service robots had a market share of just 0.4 per cent last year, TrendForce said.
"Voiced-based robot assistants have been on the market for many years, but sales have not really taken off until recently, when they included new functions such as remote operation of connected appliances and internet searches," said Harrison Po, senior manager of TrendForce's photonic and innovative technologies research. "Due to the successes of several assistant robots, many large IT companies and technology startups have decided to enter the market with their own products."
Amazon is benefiting not only from strong sales of Echo speakers, but also uptake of Alexa by other brands selling similar hardware, including LG and Lenovo, TrendForce pointed out.
"Going forward, voice-based assistant robots not only have to continually improve their voice recognition capability, they also have to integrate with more powerful machine-learning technologies," Po said. "With better AI, these robot assistants will be able to respond appropriately according to individual users' emotions, habits and expectations. In a sense, they will become more personalised in the future."
In his latest blog post, Gates reflected on historian Yuval Noah Harari's latest book, Homo Deus. The Microsoft co-founder said he took a more optimistic view of what awaits mankind than Harari, who foresees a potential future inhabited by godlike elites and super-intelligent robots that consider the rest of humanity to be superfluous.
"In addition, in my view, the robots-take-over scenario is not the most interesting one to think about," Gates (pictured) wrote. "It is true that as artificial intelligence gets more powerful, we need to ensure that it serves humanity and not the other way around. But this is an engineering problem—what you could call the control problem. And there is not a lot to say about it, since the technology in question doesn't exist yet.
"I am more interested in what you might call the purpose problem. Assume we maintain control. What if we solved big problems like hunger and disease, and the world kept getting more peaceful: What purpose would humans have then? What challenges would we be inspired to solve?"
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