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Alexa, Be My Friend?

Consumers anticipate AI ‘HAL pals,’ battling bots, in near future

In “2001: A Space Odyssey,” the onboard HAL 9000 computer advised an astronaut to “sit down calmly, take a stress pill and think things over.”

The day when our digital assistants can similarly discern our moods is close at hand, consumers believe. According to a global survey by Ericsson, 42 percent of respondents think AI devices like virtual assistants will soon understand them better than their human friends do, and another 40 percent believe that devices that can sense and react to our moods— so-called “awareables” — will be mainstream in three years.

Such devices would act on situations rather than commands, such as lowering their voices when the owner shares a secret. It’s a feature desired by 56 percent of respondents, the survey showed, and is already a quasi-skill of Alexa’s:

What’s more, twice as many consumers trust an AI device to keep their secrets secret than they do humans.

In a further anthropomorphization of smart speakers and AI platforms, 66 percent expect that within three years, competitive devices — say an Amazon Echo and Google Home speaker — will quarrel and bicker the way real family members do, making it important for couples to own compatible digital assistants.

The welcomed intrusiveness doesn’t end there. More than half of respondents (55 percent) would like their virtual assistants to keep track of utility bills; 49 percent would like them to restock generic household items automatically; 47 percent would like them to handle all their personal finances, including taxes; and 40 percent would like them to regulate indoor temperatures and water use in pursuit of a greener lifestyle.

See: Your TV Wants To Control Your Home

But consumers are also cognizant of the possible downside of AI reliance. According to the poll, 34 percent of digital assistant owners believe critical thinking will disappear due to the overuse of their devices, and 31 percent of respondents expect that the resulting “mental obesity” will necessitate “mind gyms” where people can practice thinking.

Related: Creepy Factor High With Invasive Technologies

The findings were part of Ericsson’s eighth annual Consumer Trends report, which also touched on issues of digital privacy; the promise of 5G; AR/VR-enhanced how-to videos; and the use of personal avatars.

The study is based on the results of an online survey conducted last October in Johannesburg, London, Mexico City, Moscow, New York, San Francisco, São Paulo, Shanghai, Sydney and Tokyo among 5,097 “advanced” Internet users aged 15-69, representing some 34 million citizens, Ericsson said.