Conversations with AI

29 December 2016 | Education
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One concept proposed during the workshop reinvented the IKEA pencil, turning it into an AI personal assistant

What would the world be like if people spoke to their devices the way they spoke to their friends? Can conversational technology and artificial intelligence (AI) encourage and cultivate meaningful relationships between people? A workshop, organised by SPACE10, a future-living lab and exhibition space based in Copenhagen, in collaboration with NUS Enterprise and IKEA, was held between 5 and 7 December to explore these questions.

Titled “Do You Speak Human?”, the workshop introduced NUS students from design, computing, business and engineering to global perspectives on the latest in AI and conversational technology — an emerging development that uses voice or text conversations to make digital interaction more intuitive.

After a series of informative talks, the students were challenged to devise and pitch concepts that creatively integrate voice- or text- based conversational interfaces with the IKEA customer experience or their home life. Two teams emerged winners from this competition — Team Spatial, from NUS Computing, and Team Duktig, comprising students from NUS Design and Environment’s Division of Industrial Design.

team spatial

Team Spatial, comprising (from left) Chia Wei Kang, Chan Jun Wei, Chuan Wei and Pierce Anderson Fu, pitched a concept that used AI and conversational technology to turn a photo frame into a device for communication and shared memories (Photo: Paris Chia)

Team Spatial’s concept, named “memome”, aimed to improve the social lives of the elderly. The team was guided by two observations they had of the elderly, said Year 4 student Bay Chuan Wei, who led Team Spatial. They noticed the elderly often reminisced through physical photographs, but the lack of technological skills was a stumbling block to staying connected with their families. Thus the team proposed a concept that integrated digital photo frames with conversational technology and AI, allowing the user to interact with their loved ones across distances without needing to master new technology. Operated purely through voice-based interactions, the integrated digital photo frames would offer a range of functions including displaying photos according to the user’s mood, connecting to social media, as well as the ability to share memories, photos, videos and messages with other people.

team duktig

Team Duktig: (from left) Ku Ga Eun, Letitia Lim, Low Joo Tat and Iliana Ishak (Photo: Paris Chia)

Team Duktig’s concept focused on the IKEA customer experience. The team’s idea reinvented the iconic IKEA pencil, turning it into a virtual personal assistant using conversational interfaces, AI and bone conduction. A simple gesture like placing the pencil behind the ear would activate an AI assistant that would interact with the customer. The AI assistant would provide services such as navigation instructions, information and advice on a variety of products, as well as synchronise the experiences of a group via multiple pencils.

The attempt to humanise technology was one of the goals of the team, said Year 4 student Low Joo Tat, a member of Team Duktig. They wanted to create meaningful value beyond convenience and efficiency. “We wanted to use conversational technology in a way that not just makes things easier, but also reinforces that magical quality of IKEA as a place where fond memories are created,” he said.

Both teams won an all-expense-paid trip to Scandinavia, and will have the opportunity to visit SPACE10 in Copenhagen, as well as tour the IKEA Museum in Sweden.