The problem with so many reports on Apple’s widely publicized letter to the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is that they have been so distracted by the letter’s focus on cars, they miss the bigger picture.
You see, while the letter confirms the company is “excited about the potential” of automated transportation, it also suggests the company’s wider intent of putting intelligence everywhere.
Apple wants to drive your life
In the second paragraph of the five-page letter, Apple’s director of product integrity, Steve Kenner writes:
“Apple uses machine learning to make its products and services smarter, more intuitive, and more personal. The company is investing heavily in the study of machine learning and automation, and is excited about the potential of automated systems in many areas, including transportation.” (Italics mine).
An Apple spokesman has since explained the firm to “investing heavily in machine learning and autonomous systems”.
“There are many potential applications for these technologies, including the future of transportation, so we want to work with NHTSA to help define the best practices for the industry,” they said.
These statements confirm Apple to be exploring multiple sectors in which it can apply connected intelligence. After all, why waste the potential of a billion iOS devices already in use worldwide? How can Apple build on this strong foundation? How can it further develop the AI opportunity? Now the iPhone has connected the planet, what’s the next step for the firm?
Apple has been uncharacteristically frank in its discussions on these opportunities, so you don’t need to reach too deeply to figure out some of the places it is using or will use these kinds of machine learning technologies:
- Wearables: Apple Watch should be seen as the beginning, it will not be the summit of its ambition in wearables.
- Health: We know Apple is working to develop digital health and crowdsourced health data — what do you think ResearchKit is about? The company is also working with IBM to develop health and support services for the elderly and in numerous other implementations.
- Photography: Faces.
- Maps: Everything from traffic data and more.
- Siri: Siri learns as it gets used and Apple is developing contextual intelligence in this sector.
- Apple Store: Apple uses deep learning to detect fraud at its store.
- Smart homes: HomeKit.
- Apple Music: Recommendations and more.
In other words, Apple is looking at deep learning, personalization, prediction, voice, health research, maintenance and provision, connected car and V2V communication systems, and that's just the implementations we can guess at.
Every connected mobile device created data. If properly analyzed this data can provide actionable insights that can make a big difference in numerous ways.
Smart cities, smart cars, smart infrastructure, smart health — you can take any process you like and shove the word smart in front of it to see the potential.
Even the world’s oldest industries could benefit: what might a smart tractor do and how could it benefit agricultural production? What about smart cattle trackers? Or smart crop production systems?
Smart agriculture may not be a target industry for Apple, but it isn’t hard to see how the connected devices it already offers can play a part within this, or any other, sector.
That Apple is developing technologies for an Apple Car is just the tip of a much bigger iceberg.
General purpose machine intelligence, smart workspaces, connected homes, human augmentation and software defined anything are the emerging technologies of our age, with VR and AR solutions set to become mainstream, probably in months — look forward to the AR iMac, people.
One step beyond
Apple's big investments in ride sharing tech show it to be working very hard (and laying big money down) to ensure it has a part to play in the smart future.
When it comes to other implementations, Apple constantly repeats the rubric that it seeks ways in which its technologies can make a positive difference to the world.
Apple's recent R&D spending confirms it continues to make huge investments in building these. Its ownership of arguably the world’s best mobile processor, the A-series chips, means it has the potential to get inside almost anything.
The opportunity exists for Apple to stake space in industries tech firms have never previously had a footprint in. Would you buy health insurance from Apple if it meant you got a new Apple Watch each year and got lower premiums for staying healthy with good self-care rewarded by iTunes vouchers? Would you purchase vehicle insurance if you gained rewards for driving responsibly? Those things are already happening in the insurance industry.
Now, I’m not saying Apple has a plan to enter that market, but given the growing importance of personal analytics and health data within that industry, the company has the opportunity to do so.
Augmenting human experience
The barriers between tech and daily life are breaking down. “Technology will continue to become more human-centric to the point where it will introduce transparency between people, businesses, and things,” predicted Gartner earlier this year.
“This relationship will become much more entwined as the evolution of technology becomes more adaptive, contextual and fluid within the workplace, at home, and interacting with businesses and other people.”
When I read the letter to the NHTSA I’m not only interested because it confirms Apple’s interest in vehicles, but because it also confirms the company is exploring multiple ways in which automated systems can disrupt everything. And these explorations will have big implications on tomorrow's world.
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