Mobile Technology: AI in Phones

A look at how artificial intelligence is transforming smartphones

Artificial intelligence (AI) is everywhere—most closely, in your own smartphone. Here's a look at what AI is and how it is shaping your smartphone's design and function.

A Quick Primer

AI is the study and development of machines and computer programs that are able to simulate human intelligence and tackle assigned tasks. As a well-established arm of computer science, its history goes back at least six decades. AI is integral to many of the technological conveniences we enjoy today, such as facial recognition software and predictive search in search engines. Even Spotify's music recommendations are a form of AI.

Machine Learning

Many of the innovations we rely on today function through a branch of AI known as machine learning (ML). ML is a form of artificial intelligence that involves programming machines and programs to make data-driven decisions about how and when to perform tasks. Basically, ML doesn't merely teach a computer to perform a task; rather, it teaches computers how to "think" and act (somewhat) independently using algorithms. They optimize performance of tasks based on data analysis, rather than solely human input.

ML's use of algorithms has helped push AI to the forefront of technology. It has a hand in some of the biggest sectors of consumer technology, including social media, online shopping, and smartphones.

Putting the 'Smart' in Smartphone

Unlike the first mobile phones—which could do little more than make calls, save contacts, and take low-res photos—a smartphone is a pocket-sized computer with a full-fledged operating system, a QWERTY keyboard, web access, apps, messaging, and more. Smartphones offer many of the features a standard computer has, and it makes calls. AI is behind much of this evolution.

The areas in which AI has made its mark in mobile technology are too many to list; here, we focus on voice assistant functions, photography, and facial recognition.

Voice Assistants

Voice assistants such as Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, and Samsung's Bixby use data to understand their users' voice commands and perform a variety of tasks.

  • Google Assistant is arguably the most data-driven of all the voice assistants; it performs tasks and personalizes its responses based on your previous commands and other data, such as previous Google searches. Notably, Google Assistant takes advantage of an AI-driven technology called Google Duplex, which allows Google Assistant to make reservations and appointments using voice emulation. Working with select restaurant partners, it can even autofill your personal and payment details.
  • Alexa on a smartphone lets you control your smart-home devices remotely and develop routines to automate them. Alexa's interface adapts to your voice and vocabulary as you use it.
  • Bixby, featured in some Samsung devices, uses Bixby Vision to help you learn more about the objects and landmarks around you. A Bixby Vision user can point their phone at a landmark or product to get more information about it immediately.

Photography and Videography

AI allows smartphone users to take vastly better selfies, portraits, videos, and low-light photos than ever before. It's responsible for the ability to add special effects, too.

One example is the Google Pixel's Super Res Zoom. It uses an algorithm, rather than the lens, to zoom in on a subject. An AI algorithm produces detailed "up close" photos without the user having to crop them.

Facial Recognition

Facial recognition software such as iPhone's Face ID enables users to unlock their phones using their faces. AI and ML algorithms enable the smartphone's camera to recognize its user and therefore grant access. This convenient feature is an increasingly common approach to security in smartphones of all platforms and in the apps that run on them.

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