Innovation Event explores the future of AI and reveals why people are still the key

LAS VEGAS — Artificial Intelligence will create permanent, widespread and disruptive change across industry and society at large, but it will not replace the need for human insight, oversight and invention.

That was the assessment of speakers at Furniture Today’s Innovation Event yesterday at World Market Center here. Discussing technology and the role it will play in the future of the furniture business Ashley president and CEO Todd Wanek likened the impact of AI to the invention of fire and the harnessing of electricity.

He noted that AI is already playing a key role at the world’s largest manufacturer of furniture with functions such as billing already being handled almost exclusively by the technology today. But it is not and will not replace the need for human oversight and direction.

In this way his comments echoed those of opening keynote speaker Christoph Burkhardt, who pointed out that, “People who can make decisions will have jobs.” Burkhardt explained that AI is exceptionally good at gathering and analyzing massive amounts of data, specifically past data. What it cannot do at this point, and perhaps never, is invent something entirely new, outside the scope of its gathered data.

“AI cannot design a ‘new’ chair,” Burkhardt said, explaining that while the technology can amalgamate any number of past designs it does so at the direction of human inputs and based on parameters set by those employing it.

This was just one of the subjects on the agenda, which focused strongly on what the industry’s future may look like and how companies are preparing to address it. Discussing trends and the role they play in consumers’ furniture purchase decision panelist Alex Shuford from Rock House Brands, Caroline Hipple of Norwalk, Danny Goldstein from Fashion Snoops and Ralph Shulberg from Package AI offered insights into the weight consumer give to trending designs when choosing product for their homes.

Shuford noted that while furniture is a fashion business it is not THE fashion business, in which consumers make choices that last six months, while furniture purchasers are thinking in terms of six years or more. Fashion Snoops Goldstein also noted that the newest generation of consumers — Gen Z — are far more values-based in their decision making today than previous generations.

A separate session featuring Tammy Bucker from Culp, Melanie Honig of SmithHonig and Patterson Farms and Home in Harmony’s Christa O’Leary explored the homes and materials of tomorrow and looked at the increasing role that health and wellness plays in consumer purchase decisions and home designs.

The event also unveiled Furniture Today’s 2023 40 Under 40 Class of future industry leaders.

Sponsors of this year’s event included Esquire Advertising, Gigacloud, Package AI, Cylindo and AndMore (formerly IMC).

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