Sleigh Bells Ping, Are You Listening?
New rules say that Santa Claus can deliver gifts this year, but what AI tech might help him get the job done faster?
Recently, all four UK nations were offered a sip of well-deserved Christmas cheer as the Government announced a temporary relaxation of Covid restrictions for the festive period. The decision permits three households to bubble-up between the 23rd and 27th of December. Naturally, the move has its critics, but most appear happy. Whatever side of the Christmas tree you sit on, the burning question on everyone’s lips is…can Santa Claus swing by?
A little birdie (a snow-dusted Robin redbreast, to be precise) tells me the official line is that, yes, good old Saint Nick can indeed do his usual rounds this year. Our jolly friend will be permitted to leave isolation in the chilly North Pole and make his way around the globe to put smiles on kids’ faces — but you won’t see the smile on his own face, as he will, of course, be wearing a mask.
For the sake of his health, how can us humans help Father Christmas make billions of deliveries quicker than usual in the space of one night? And how can we help him in the lead-up to the big night too?
Well, the least we can do is offer our very best AI technologies. Let’s have a look at a few of the different ways we could deploy these, getting him home to Mrs. Claus and a warm, crackling fire quicker than he can knock back a glass of eggnog.
The most obvious solution at our disposal here is a self-driving sleigh. Using existing autonomous vehicle tech, we can give Santa’s old-banger of a sleigh the upgrade it desperately needs.
Driverless capabilities will allow the over-worked beardsman to relax between stops, and perhaps even flick through his dog-eared copy of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Not only that, but a range of control systems and sensors will also keep the airborne sledge on the right path and out of the way of any oncoming planes.
And it’s important to remember, we don’t just need to protect Mr. Claus this Yuletide season. We have to keep the reindeer in mind too, especially Rudolph — the elves tell me that rosy nose of his makes him particularly vulnerable to coronavirus. With a driverless sleigh, Santa can leave the reindeer safely tucked away in their stables.
Gift recommendation engines
This year, some children won’t feel super safe leaving home to post Father Christmas their wish list. Not to worry though. We can give Santa the sort of recommendation engines found in Netflix and Amazon Video to help him figure out what presents little ones all over the world might like. That way, he won’t be forced to hang around in the cold, rummaging in his bottomless sack only to make a potentially iffy choice.
He can retrofit this technology, based on artificial neural networks, to his current computer systems. As with streaming services, the tech will recommend options based on the preferences of each child. You might wonder how Santa could possibly have the technical knowledge to carry out such a modification, but may I remind you we’re talking about a being with magical powers here!
From personal experience, I can say that recommendation engines don’t always get it right, and I have a feeling the almighty Saint Nicholas would prefer a touch more certainty when it comes to making gift choices.
Couldn’t Xmas Inc. simply establish a customer services team to field Christmas wish queries? In theory, yes, but who would fill these roles? Let’s not forget they’re already running a tight ship up there in the North Pole, with the elves working around the clock to manufacture all manner of goodies.
This is where elf chatbots could step in. Fear not, these AI systems would be every bit as merry and helpful as the little colourful chaps we’ve come to know and love at this time of the year — and nowhere near as annoying as Buddy, Will Ferrel’s character in 2003 Christmas flick Elf.
A festive virtual assistant
You may not know this, but Santa has a smartphone. Well, I tell a lie — he actually has two. The first is for use in his personal life, to WhatsApp Mrs. Claus and his chums down at the local pub, the Seven Sleigh Bells. The second is for work, to check in with Xmas Inc.’s main suppliers, Unicorn & Co and Easter Bunny Enterprises, as well as all the elves, reindeer handlers, and so on.
Even so, our bearded friend hasn’t updated either of his phones for a while now, leaving him without the benefits of a virtual assistant like Siri or Alexa. I think a VA on his work phone would make Saint Nick’s life a whole lot easier, don’t you?
Voice-to-text technology would facilitate internet searches on the move (in the driverless sleigh) without the need to remove toasty hands from cosy gloves. For example, Santa could search our social media to make sure there hasn’t been any last-minute naughtiness, making us unworthy of our allocated gifts.
A virtual assistant could also remind Father Christmas when to take his anti-nausea meds. Travelling at something close to the speed of light takes its toll on the body, don’t you know? When they meddle with physics, even our mystical counterparts pay the price.
So, there you have it. Just a handful of easy ways AI and Santa can work together to make his life easier this Noel. And it’s thanks to such collaboration that humans can similarly benefit from these same technologies — only we have to stick to the laws of physics if we’re to live.
I’ll go on the assumption that your kids have been good all year. This’ll mean our favourite man-in-a-red-suit won’t need to drop a lump of coal down the chimney and into their stocking come Christmas Eve. By my reckoning, we’ve already seen enough bah-humbug in 2020!