Why Ikea is asking its shoppers if they want religious AI-enabled furniture


If your couch could speak to you, would you like it to sound humanlike or robotic? Should it act motherly and protective, or autonomous or challenging? Should it be religious?

These are the burning questions Swedish furniture retailer Ikea is asking customers through a survey titled “Do you speak human?”

The survey, an initiative from Ikea’s futuristic “innovator hub” SPACE10, is an attempt to find out the type of artificial intelligence (AI) Ikea shoppers would want running their house if the company was to implement AI within its furniture and home goods offerings.

Read more: Ikea launches cheeky ad after designer produces $2,850 handbag similar to its 99 cent Frakta shopping bag

“What does a Swedish furniture retailer know about AI and conversational technology? Not much, but we know AI is coming and we know there are tremendous opportunities in this area to create a better service for people around the world,” Göran Nilsson, manager of Ikea concept innovation, at inter Ikea systems said in a blog post.

“Ikea could accommodate people’s individual needs as well as empower the 285 million people who are visually impaired using AI and conversational interfaces. We are curious to hear from the many people how they feel about AI.”

The survey can be taken by anyone and includes a number of questions around the personality of a potential Ikea AI assistant. Would you prefer it to be male, female, or gender neutral? Should it collect data to improve your experience? Should it react to your emotions?

So far, results have revealed the majority of people want an AI-enabled couch that’s humanlike, gender neutral, and obedient and assisting. It should reflect a user’s values and react to their emotions. It should not be religious, and it should pre-emptively complete tasks before asked.

“We know AI offers tremendous benefits to the lives of the many people and that its exponential growth is inevitable. So, how do we make sure we make it a good thing?” said Bas van de Poel from SPACE10 in a blog post.

“We believe in opening up the debate, before jumping into development — asking people how they feel about AI and what they expect from it.”

Full results from the “playful research” survey can be viewed here.

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