Where’s the AI in these ‘AI-powered’ products for your home? An explanation.

<div>Where’s the AI in these ‘AI-powered’ products for your home? An explanation.</div>
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Around the release of ChatGPT in 2022, AI became the buzzword du jour for tech investors and startups, so it’s only natural that in our tech-saturated consumer world, AI would become a buzzword in home electronics and appliances just a short time later. And boy is it ever a buzzword. If you’re shopping for an appliance with “AI” shoehorned into its specs, someone will sell you something. 

But you may find yourself the proud owner of say, an artificially intelligent toaster, and be left with some regular old hot bread, and a few questions about where all that supposed AI went. 

Artificial intelligence is a capacity or an attribute, not a thing, and it’s highly subjective: the ability to simulate human intelligence, more or less covers it. Philosophers and computer scientists still have to hash out the finer points of what counts as artificial intelligence, what its potential is or is not, and how contemporary “generative AI” applications like ChatGPT fit into the picture, but that’s above my pay grade as a tech journalist. What I can tell you, however, is what companies currently market as artificial intelligence. 

So a quick look at some home appliances is a fantastic way to see what companies think AI is, and what they think consumers want AI to be. Keep in mind that anything automated or capable of performing a calculation can be considered AI if you broaden your definition enough, but that’s an obvious cop-out. If you buy one of these devices for its AI capabilities and feel like you didn’t get any actual AI, it’s doubtful you can get a refund, but at least after reading this, you’ll have an overview of how much, or how little, intelligence you can really expect from a gadget. 

Here’s where the AI is in five pieces of technology for your home: 

Nest Learning Thermostat

What it is: Google’s Wi-Fi enabled thermostat that looks like a giant, glowing watch battery, found in approximately 100 percent of Airbnb units, and approximately zero percent of rented homes. 

What it does: When you first use it, by turning its ever-so-satisfying wheeled exterior to dial in your preferred temperature, it learns how hot or cold you want it to be at different times of the day. Then, if all goes according to plan, it optimizes your A/C and heater to fit your preferences without your constant input. If you have a smart home system and you integrate your Nest thermostat into it, you can do things like use voice commands to change the temperature. 

Where the AI is: Google’s overview of the Nest thermostat actually doesn’t mention AI (perhaps because Google is still struggling to get its story straight about the topic in general) but AI is nonetheless a huge part of the marketing for Nest products, and shows up in all sorts of pages about Nest and Google Home, including an explainer on using AI-generated scripts to generate climate-control-centric Google Home Routines. So it really can integrate with generative AI.

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As far as AI in the classic functions of the Nest itself goes, Google software engineer Ramya Bhagavatula told an official Google blogger in 2020, “We’re using people’s preferences and adding machine learning to find you ways to help save energy.” Optimizing temperature with a Nest thermostat involves AI algorithms that used to run on the device, and now run in the cloud. “Originally, each thermostat operated on its own, but now we have the power to make intelligent decisions based on anonymized data, which might not have been possible if we were just looking at each individual device,” Bhagavatula explained.

Google Nest Thermostat

at Amazon

Save $30.00

One of the most popular thermostats in the world.

Samsung 2024 Bespoke 4-Door Flex Refrigerator with AI Family Hub Plus

What it is: A refrigerator with one of its four doors almost entirely taken up by what looks like an iPad the size of a coffee table. 

What it does: Most users treat Samsung’s Family Hub-enabled refrigerators — or any smart fridges — like refrigerators that can also play MrBeast videos. But they can be integrated with the rest of your smart home if you have one, so if you’re a virtuosic tech adopter, you can use it to do all sorts of gee-whiz things like answer your door via your smart doorbell while standing in your kitchen. 

Where the AI is: Samsung’s Family Hub predates the 2022 AI explosion. It has always included a system for streamlining the process of turning your refrigerated ingredients into meals using software that, say, suggests recipes based on foods you’ve indicated are inside it, automates shopping lists to suit those recipes, and orders the food you need via in-fridge versions of shopping apps. That’s not the AI part.

The new AI Family Hub feature announced at CES 2024 puts AI front and center in its marketing, but if you’re imagining an artificially intelligent voice assistant who helps you cook, it doesn’t look like Samsung has even tried to do that. The legitimate, unambiguous use of contemporary AI in this fridge appears to be a new camera with integrated AI computer vision so that your fridge can independently recognize ingredients inside of it, such as a tomato. This saves you the trouble of manually informing the fridge you’re a tomato owner. Your tomato can then be swept up into the broader, non-AI, Family Hub software ecosystem.

a smart refrigerator with touchscreen

Credit: screenshot via Samsung

Samsung Bespoke 4-Door French Door Refrigerator

Note: This is not the still-unreleased AI version

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CatGenie A.I. Self-Washing Cat Box

What it is: An automated cat box hooked up to your house’s plumbing system that can pipe cat urine and feces into a nearby toilet or wastewater let-out. 

What it does: Even for an automated cat box, this is a surprisingly sophisticated device in terms of its setup and number of moving parts. Once the CatGenie detects a cat has conducted its business and left, liquid waste is drained through the bottom, thanks to proprietary non-clumping granules in place of litter, which the mechanism then washes and dries. Solids are sifted out, and shunted up a chute into a sort of macerator, where they’re turned into a slurry that can then be delivered to a toilet bowl with the liquid waste. What a time to be a cat parent. 

Where the AI is: To my surprise, the basic mechanics of the CatGenie haven’t really changed in over a decade. Nonetheless, according to the website, the “A.I.” version, “uses artificial intelligence to give you and your cat the most customized and personalized waste management system ever invented for cats.” The AI version also seems to be the only type of CatGenie sold new on the CatGenie website, so there may well not be a regular CatGenie anymore — only CatGenie A.I.

It’s a mystery which CatGenie capabilities should be thought of as AI. There’s no evidence that it has — or would benefit from — computer vision rather than something simpler like an infrared sensor to recognize that a cat has entered and exited. It does now come with an app, allowing you to look over a log of your cat’s litter box visits, and control how often it scoops and self-cleans, but a clear AI-enhancement within the app for optimizing your cat’s usage of the box relative to the number of cleans is not in evidence. 

Mashable has reached out to CatGenie for an explanation of its A.I. claims, and will include them if we receive a response.

CatGenie A.I. Self-Cleaning, Fully-Flushing, Self-Scooping, Automatic Cat Box Small

at Amazon

A sophisticated, self-cleaning cat box, AI or not.

Roborock S7 MaxV Robot Vacuum (featuring ReactiveAI 2.0 Obstacle Avoidance)

What it is: A robot vacuum purporting to have a particularly easy time avoiding obstacles and pet poop compared to similar products.

What it does: If you can’t wrap your head around the idea of getting a robot vacuum, that may be because like most people, you’re more of a slob than you would care to admit, and your floors aren’t reliably clear enough of junk to give a robot free reign without worrying that it will, say, choke to death on a sock. This robot will actually avoid said sock. 

Where the AI is: ReactiveAI 2.0 Obstacle Avoidance is a somewhat controversial feature, because it doesn’t just use something like LIDAR, infrared, or photocell censors, which are more for detecting boundaries than for avoiding objects that shouldn’t be vacuumed over. Instead, it sees into the nooks and crannies of your filthy house with an old-fashioned RGB camera. Roborock’s S7 MaxV features actual AI-based computer vision that “knows” its looking at a cat turd, and will give that sucker the wide berth it deserves. Reviews suggest it’s the real deal, again, if you don’t mind the intrusive RGB camera, which is currently a necessity for enabling AI image detection. 

a robot vacuum and a smartphone displaying the accompanying app

Credit: Sscreenshot via Amazon

Roborock S7 MaxV Robot Vacuum and Sonic Mop

Note: This model was out-of-stock as of this writing

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Briiv Pro 2.0 ‘The World’s First AI Powered Air Purifier’

What it is: A tabletop air purifier that draws in air through some nice green moss and a disc of coconut fibers, followed by a conventional filter. It’s also “The World’s First AI Powered Air Purifier.”

What it does: It purifies indoor air and the moss looks nice. 

Where the AI is: This product’s successful Kickstarter page says it works by “harnessing a unique AI machine learning algorithm,” making it “the most advanced air quality monitoring system on the planet.” However, it’s not abundantly clear that there is anything about this device that would qualify as more “artificially intelligent” than any other air purifier with an air monitor that allows it to respond to pollutants in the air by turning on.

A representative from Briff using the name Serena Nash told Mashable that Briiv does use AI. In an email, they explained that the device “has the library of information we have been teaching it built in and then it’s running an algorithm with that data, but the active part of the machine learning is cloud based.” The model itself is “not a large language model like IBM or chat GPT, so we can’t just talk to it with text prompts like the big mainstream models, we are more like a neural network model,” Nash explained.

This email left us with further questions — particularly whether or not Briiv is claiming to be using neural networks for deep learning, or not. Or alternatively, whether the company is using terms like “AI” and “algorithm” in some other way. As of this writing Briiv still had not expanded after a request for clarity.


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