Our households are becoming increasingly digital. Smart devices are finding their way into our four walls and are taking work off our hands in many places. Nevertheless, there are still questions when it comes to an intelligent, networked household. We spoke to Hoang Richter, Project Manager for Artificial Intelligence and responsible for the Series 8 oven with Artificial Intelligence from Bosch.
How do you define ‘Artificial Intelligence (AI)’?
This cannot be answered in one sentence, because the term "Artificial Intelligence" is very broad. In general, it is about reproducing the decision-making process that humans possess through their intelligence. This can start with simple control systems, e.g. when a character in a computer game finds its way from A to B, and extend to very complex algorithms for autonomous mobility or fuel calculation in rockets.
Why do we need Artificial Intelligence in the home?
Artificial Intelligence simplifies unpleasant household tasks for us. For example vacuum cleaners or mowing robots that work on your home or garden when needed. This means that you no longer have to vacuum or mow yourself, but only perform small tasks that the robot cannot do yet. You’re relieved of tedious routine work so that you can concentrate on the important things in life. At the moment, the focus is still on the comfort aspect. The better the systems become, the more they will support the user. But we are not yet at the stage where devices are thinking for us.
What is the idea behind the new Series 8 oven with Artificial Intelligence from Bosch?
The idea behind it is that we want to support customers in baking. Imagine it like this: you have no idea how to bake a cake but want to try out a delicious recipe anyway. You mix the dough and put it in our oven, press the start button and from then on the baking process is completely automatic. The oven continuously measures the condition of the cake and the remaining baking time. This is important because there are loads of variables in recipes and preparation. For example if I have an old recipe, e.g. for my grandma's "super cake", this recipe would have been written for a totally different set of kitchen equipment, older models. Ovens today are high-performance technical devices with much better seals, which can mean temperatures and baking times of the past are no longer the right ones, but if you are not a professional there is no way to know this! You might be deterred from baking if the finished cake does not taste good or is soft inside and burnt on the outside. Time forecasting helps you to be a better baker with fewer worries. You no longer have to do a stick test or constantly open the oven door to see if the cake is ready. Basically, it's all about making cooking and baking fun and easy for the user. If we can help people do this, our mission is accomplished.
How does it work technically?
There are many sensors in the oven. Different sensors are used depending on what is being cooked, for example dough or meat. They measure parameters such as inside temperature, humidity, heat or air circulation. Behind them is a machine-learning system, i.e. a neural network that has learned to recognize certain sequences from this data and make intelligent predictions, including how long the baking or cooking process will take.
Is the oven capable of learning? Does it become even more intelligent over time? If so, how does it work?
Yes, the oven is capable of learning, but at the moment only in terms of prediction. We are constantly working on further development. In principle, everyone who uses the oven helps to optimize the prediction. We take the collected data, analyze it and let our machine in the data center learn continuously. The customer won’t notice any major changes, only that the oven has become more accurate when they cook the same dish again. We also learn from this when you, the user, prepare something very special. So in this way we are constantly expanding this neural network.
Is it still possible with this oven that a dish goes wrong?
The sensor technology is already in the process of development, so nothing should go wrong. The oven has gone through lots of tests and has been tried and tested again and again. There is a large team behind it and we are proud of the baking sensor. Of course something can always happen, I don't want to rule it out 100%. In which case, we are happy to make improvements.
Will our kitchen appliances one day be smarter than we are?
That is a cool question. The first counter-question to ask would be: What does "smarter than ourselves" mean? If you say you can't bake a cake and have an oven that does it for you, is it already smarter than you? In my opinion, this is a philosophical question. We as humans are - I'll call it that - "tool animals". We are intelligent beings who have learned to become better with tools. A car, for example, is nothing more than a tool; an extension of our feet. Or let's take the Internet, which is an extension of our brain, so to speak. It is the same with Artificial Intelligence. It is a tool that supports you.
Will you still be able to pull the plug?
Yes, unless there is a cultural change. But at the moment it is important that people understand they are in control. It won't be the case, at least not in the near future, that you won't be able to adjust anything yourself, for example with your oven. Alternatively, you can also control our oven manually and set the temperature, time, etc. yourself. This is a good thing, because Artificial Intelligence helps us, but it should not take the lead in every matter. There will always be people, especially when cooking, who have their own takes on a dish. If I can cook well, then I know exactly what I have to do myself. And then I want an appliance that supports me only as much as I want to use it.
Where are the limits of AI? Are there areas in the household that will remain untouched or will AI be used everywhere at some point?
I would first have to consider whether there are any areas that are still untouched. Even lightbulbs don’t need to be switched on manually nowadays, we can use voice assistants. As everything becomes smarter it helps us do our daily work. AI may be limited in areas where sensitive data is involved. Household appliances are less of an issue than say autonomous driving, where automated processes involve much larger ethical issues, such as accident situations also involve human lives.
Are consumers still skeptical about the new technology?
Definitely, yes. According to a recently published study, acceptance of Artificial Intelligence in Germany was only 14% in 2018. However, thanks mainly to Corona, acceptance has recently risen to 56% and internationally to 54%. In the crisis, people are having to do much more digitality, and this trend is rising. This shows how quickly things can change and how quickly acceptance can develop.
What is the vision for the kitchen of the future?
The kitchen of the future should take more and more stress out of everyday life by using Artificial Intelligence to reduce or facilitate tasks. My personal concern is that the kitchen should bring people closer to the fun of cooking, trying things out and healthy eating. It helps if you have support – like a good chef who stands behind you and makes sure that everything works.
Can you see a scenario where one won’t even need to enter the kitchen to cook, and the kitchen does everything on its own?
That is definitely conceivable. Are we ready? No, not yet. But of course there is always visionary thinking. You just have to look at pictures from the 19th century or early 20th century that show how people imagined locomotion in 100 years. People imagined flying through the air, for example with old motorized bicycles. The world looks a little different today, but we fly through the air, in airplanes which we don't have to power ourselves. So a completely autonomous kitchen will certainly come. It will be interesting to see what it will look like.