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Bringing humans and machines even closer with sensors and AI

Sensors that watch over and care for people

It's said that the ability to monitor one's surroundings and adapt as needed is crucial when working, no matter the industry or type of work. For example, someone capable of reading the room during a meeting and moderating or elevating the mood at just the right time would play a key role in ensuring that the discussion goes smoothly no matter how difficult the topic might be. Similarly, quick-thinking people who keep a close eye on the situation are crucial when working in a team or collaborating between industries.

Of course, not everyone at a meeting or workplace is capable of keeping a close eye on things and reading the mood of the room. What makes people who respond appropriately to such situations different? We can assume that it's a matter of developing and refining a certain sensitivity. Of course, developing these skills is not an easy task.

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Systems that use both sensors and artificial intelligence (AI) have recently been introduced in some brick-and-mortar stores, to help employees monitor the store and react quicker to situations. Sensors are used to monitor customer behavior in the store and to monitor the overall situation, while AI is used to make appropriate decisions and suggest how employees could serve customers better.

US apparel companies have been using IoT in their stores to help enhance and improve customer experiences. RFID tags are attached to all products in the store, to track products as they are placed and moved throughout the store. AI is used to automatically analyze this data and find trends, such as which products customers are picking up, wearing, and ultimately purchasing. This can be used to track the movement of products through the store, and this information can be used to prepare and recommend the types of products customers are seeking.

Although a similar system could be implemented using cameras and image recognition technology, doing so would require gathering and recording personal information. In contrast, a system using sensors and AI would track only the movement of products within the store and would therefore be a safer choice in protecting personal information.

Systems to keep people safe and healthy

Systems capable of watching people and making quick decisions are also being used in other fields.

For example, some companies in Japan now offer services to keep watch over elderly people living alone by monitoring the electric meters installed in their homes. An electric meter is normally checked once a month to calculate the electricity bill for that month. However, replacing this with a smart meter that can be checked more often would allow a more detailed view of how electricity is being used. A person will use more or less electricity as living conditions change, and these trends can actually be used to confirm the wellbeing of that individual. This can be easily implemented and would provide significant social value—and would serve as an excellent first step toward developing smart homes and smart cities.

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Smartwatches, which contain a wide range of sensors, are now capable of generating data from daily activity and health information. This data can be used to monitor an individual's health. This information could also be shared with a doctor to provide the wearer with a daily health checkup, allowing for illness to be detected early on. Severe illness is a problem for individuals and society at large, as treating these illnesses increases healthcare costs. Of course, there are some legal issues that would need to be cleared and healthcare systems would require some reform. Even so, many countries and regions are already using sensors to gather daily health information to help prevent and treat illness.

New technology that can read the mood of a room

Researchers are now also developing technologies that go beyond closely monitoring individuals and detecting unspoken needs, and that use sensors and AI to read the mood of a room. This is one area that has been the subject of increasing attention in the application and development of AI.

For example, a participant in a meeting can read the mood of the room (whether discussion is lively, or people are brooding over some matter or not paying attention) by the tone of voice used by speakers, or the speed or pitch of conversation. When someone does this, they are reading the room based on information gathered through their sense of hearing. AI can now be used to analyze data recorded with a microphone, in order to help visualize the mood of the room or determine relationships between individual participants.

We can use this kind of data to ensure that meetings are conducted smoothly, effectively, and efficiently. We can even determine how interested a customer might be in a product or service, based not only on what they say, but on their facial expressions and behavior extracted from image data.

Researchers are also developing technologies to set certain moods or atmospheres in rooms to help people concentrate better, such as automatically adjusting lighting based on goals or the situation. These technologies could also be used outside of meeting rooms. Some examples might include helping to get people more excited during events or providing a calmer mood at a restaurant or cafe.

The dawn of an age where machines will watch over society and the entire planet

We once believed that providing hospitality (perceiving customer moods and reacting quickly to their desires) and reading the mood of a room were particularly human behaviors. However, we have begun providing machines with these same abilities, thanks to IoT and AI. Unlike a human, a machine would never provide poorer service because it was in a bad mood that day.

Let's look a little further into the future. What if we installed sensors on everything? We'd be able to monitor all of society or even the planet, to determine situations in individual countries or read the prevailing mood of the times. How many people are starving? How many people are faced with serious concerns? Where are they? We'll soon be able to find out. We will likely evolve as a species so that these technologies can be used effectively and properly.

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