How robots and AI are being used in everyday life

Artificial Intelligence sounds like a far out concept but it’s actually being used more and more in everyday life – in fact, a lot of the time you might not even realise you’re using it…

14 Apr 2016


You’ve likely heard of artificial intelligence (AI) before – but did you realise you’re probably using it every time you log onto your Facebook or Instagram feed, and use voice commands on your phone to set reminders or look something up?

Here we look at this tech in more detail, and show you some of the new ways you could be using it to make life easier in future…

What is AI?

AI works by copying the human thought process – giving machines the ability to do things like learn information, respond to it and interact with others.

Eventually scientists hope it’ll be advanced enough to allow them to reason intelligently and even think their own thoughts, although that’s still some way off.

So how exactly is it being used today?

More personal social timelines

Have you noticed any changes to your Instagram feed recently? That’s because it’s using a new algorithm (a set of rules used in computer coding) that chooses the posts it thinks you’ll be most interested in – and displays them as a priority.

Whereas before you saw every photo from accounts you followed in the order they were posted, now it looks at things like whether you’ve liked that user’s posts before to decide which ones to show you.

Why? The number of people using Instagram has grown massively in recent years, to around 400m users (source: Instagram). Now the company reckons that a lot of people are missing out on photos and videos they actually want to see because they’re following so many people.

Sound familiar? It’s already a feature of your Facebook timeline – which uses AI to bring up only the posts it thinks you’ll want to see on your Newsfeed. It’s based on your close friends (that is, the ones you interact with most) as well more popular posts with lots of comments and likes.

Virtual assistants on your phone

Do you ever use Siri or Cortana as a personal assistant on your phone? You may not realise it, but that’s AI at work too.

Apple’s Siri interprets your voice commands and carries them out for you. You can use it to do things like:

  • launch apps without having to scroll through your homescreen
  • remind you to carry out tasks
  • write out texts with your voice
  • get information like restaurant opening hours, then book a table for you

The more you use it and correct it when it’s wrong, the more Siri learns about you to give you a better service.

Microsoft’s Cortana starts by asking you a series of personal questions about yourself to help it get to know you better. Like Siri, it can recognise your voice – open it up simply by saying ‘hey, Cortana’. Then use it to set reminders, sync with your calendar and answer questions using Bing.

The rise of the bots: how will AI be used in future?

AI is already being used for carrying out day-to-day tasks, but in the future we could see it becoming even more intertwined with our everyday lives.

The next time you order pizza or book a holiday, how about talking to a chatbot instead of carrying out a complicated set of instructions on a website? Chatbots are designed to make carrying out these kinds of tasks much easier – think of it as a type of online customer service you talk to.

Read more about clever bots at Microsoft Build

Or how about when you’re out shopping or looking for information in a public place? There’s a new type of service robot being developed that can recognise when you’re in need of help or lost.

One of these, Hitachi’s EMIEW3, could be coming to shops near you soon. It runs on a type of software that can recognise voices and movements and interpret them to:

  • respond intelligently when you ask it for help
  • recognise when you need assistance, and approach you without being prompted
  • share data with other robots to offer a smoother service – a big advantage on human shop assistants

That’s not all – robots could also become more commonplace in your home. Take Pepper, the ‘emotive’ robot we saw at SXSW earlier this year that can recognise your feelings and respond to them.

See our SXSW roundup

Driverless cars

Imagine the next time you hop in a taxi – but instead of telling a driver where you want to go, you simply programme the directions in and the car takes you there by itself.

Driverless cars used to seem really futuristic but they’re quickly becoming a reality. Tech giant Google is already behind it, with a driverless car that uses built-in sensors to scan road signs and recognise when other cars are nearby. The cars can also avoid hazards like people crossing the road or cyclist to make sure they stay safe on the road.

See more of the latest tech stories