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Brightest idea ever: A.I. light bulbs

Mike Elgan | Jan. 19, 2016
The best place for Siri isn't your iPhone. It's the nearest lamp.

sony multifunctional light
Sony Sony's Multifunctional Light offers a glimpse of the future of A.I. appliances that live in light bulb sockets.

Sony's Multifunctional Light works like other smart lights. Brightness is automated or can be controlled with a smartphone, thanks to the LED lights, built-in Wi-Fi and a dedicated app. That's all pretty standard for a smart bulb.

But the Sony bulb also sports a motion-detector, a brightness meter, temperature and humidity sensors, an infrared sensor and a memory card slot.

Oh, and it has a built-in speaker and microphone.

The sensors are designed for improved automation. For example, you could set the light to turn on by itself, but only at night and when humans are present -- the light sensor and motion detector would be able to tell.

Theoretically, however, the presence of speaker, microphone and Wi-Fi connections means it's already capable of serving as a way to communicate with the Amazon Echo's Alexa, Apple's Siri, Google's Google Now, Microsoft's Cortana or any other virtual assistant. Actually enabling access to existing virtual assistants would require minor software and network changes.

Sony apparently intends the speaker and microphone to serve as a speakerphone for smartphones and an intercom system for the house.

No, the revolution hasn't started yet. Sony's Multifunctional Light ships later this year in Japan only. Even then, it probably won't communicate with a virtual assistant right off the bat.

But as with the trend lines, the Multifunctional Light serves as a proof of concept that light bulbs can be fitted with speakers and microphones and connect via the Internet to remote servers, as the Amazon Echo does.

I see the Sony Multifunctional Light as the IBM Simon of the coming virtual assistant appliance revolution. It's rudimentary and limited by comparison to what's coming, and it probably won't succeed commercially.

What's needed is for more such light bulbs to come on the market, and for these to openly support virtual assistants -- and for Amazon, Apple, Google and Microsoft to support these products as extensions of their own virtual assistant products.

Homes are already wired for it

Smart devices need electricity and will continue to need it well into the foreseeable future.

Homes are already wired for electricity, and this electrical power is delivered to two categories of receptacle: electrical outlets and light bulb sockets.

Because light bulbs are located in places where they will shine light on human activity, they tend to be easily accessible, in spots where people live their lives. While the electrical outlet might be behind the couch, the lamp that's plugged into the outlet sits right next to the couch, where you could easily talk to and through it. The same goes for other lamps, built-in ceiling lights, garage lights, bathroom lights -- they're distributed in every room and within speaking and hearing distance.


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