To many, this year's explosion of artificially intelligent software platforms and chatbots is nothing more than a solution looking for a problem, while others are excited for the ways it might improve our work and our quality of life.
From ChatGPT's writing smarts to Midjourney's artistic riffing (and the concern that both are simply lifting from the work of real human creators), AI is already all around.
No surprise, many car brands are working to get in the game, and quickly. BMW was among the first, with its new Proactive Care bot designed to self-diagnose faults and damage, and arrange an appointment or assistance as needed.
BMW's British-born brand Mini is getting in on the action too, revealing a playful new animated assistant named Spike for the upcoming new Mini.
Now, here comes Kia.
At today's Kia EV Day, the Korean brand revealed it will launch a new Kia App for phones in 2024, with an onboard AI chatbot "to help customers with their questions and provide quick responses".
The chatbot is intended to serve a variety of purchasing and ownership purposes, including the ability to scout insurance premium discounts. (This is literally the first function Kia describes in its announcement, which included no images of the app at the time of writing.)
The more valuable function in an ongoing sense will be the 'E-Routing' feature, offering a Tesla-like ability for monitoring battery status to then suggest best routes and nearest chargers as needed.
Kia will launch a new Kia App for phones in 2024, with an onboard AI chatbot "to help customers with their questions and provide quick responses".
As with most of today's connected apps, including the Kia Connect app only recently launched in Australia, it will also "display location-based information, like nearby restaurants, to improve the user experience. Customers can conveniently manage the charging port and monitor real-time charging status on the home screen using the 'Handle Layer' feature in the app."
ChatGPT (or something like it) in the car
The Kia App's capabilities will carry over into the car, too, and the upcoming 2024 Kia EV3 compact SUV will be the first to feature an AI assistant.
Kia says the platform will use "top generative AI model providers", which is sure to be OpenAI – the makers of ChatGPT – but might also point to others like Google's competing Bard system, Meta's new eponymous Meta AI, or the lesser-known Anthropic platform, a more specifically safety-focused rival to OpenAI.
"This will allow customers to access a wide range of services like schedule management, electric vehicle route optimization, travel planning, entertainment, and emergency support by simply engaging in conversations with the generative AI assistant."
Will AI assistants in cars be a solution to an actual problem?
It actually could. Wait, don't hang up!
While you'd be right in saying that we've all 'got along just fine' with physical controls, cars are becoming more complex than ever before – and far more capable.
Just about every traditional feature in a modern car is now more richly enabled, whether it's multi-zone climate control, seat heating and massaging, or the main infotainment experience itself.
Up to now, adding voice control has resulted in less than pleasant encounters.
Even on our phones and smart speakers, Google Assistant and Apple's Siri have both proven inconsistent if not downright infuriating over the years, with little to no improvement – if not a marked deterioration in their capability.
Bard will likely be integrated with Google Assistant soon, of course, which will make for a welcome upgrade.
As for car brands, none have managed to launch a voice assistant I haven't wanted to tear out of the dash and hurl out the window.
But! We're clearly in a time of change. Having good, reliable and natural voice control over our cars' interior functions – which means not having to nail specific keywords and phrases to get today's dumb assistants to understand your request, but rather a bot trained on millions of iterations of spoken requests – will likely prove indispensable and second-nature over the next few years.
I've been using a paid ChatGPT 4 subscription for a while, and it now has the ability to accept dictated voice messages. It is... incredibly good at understanding my conversational tone, and providing an equally conversational answer – if that's the tone I want. Best of all, OpenAI has confirmed it will very soon be able to respond by voice, too.
What about my data privacy?
The sooner you start to think of your phone as just a big phone on wheels – and all that entails, as far as privacy and security on your phones goes – the less you'll be shocked.
As we covered in our racily titled story on carmaker digital privacy policies, brands have been fairly upfront with their intentions – as required by law – and be not mistaken, they'll all be selling your data. And, yes, you can probably expect that to be more in the 'intense collection and sharing with partners for marketing' Android model than the 'we collect and share some data but, err, not for marketing... [↗]' Apple model.
Read more about that at the linked story above.