Mobile Technology: AI in Phones

A look at how artificial intelligence is transforming smartphones

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

What Is AI?

AI is the study and development of machines and computer programs that simulate human intelligence and tackle assigned tasks. As an 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.

What Is 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 software to make data-driven decisions about how and when to perform tasks.

ML doesn't merely teach a computer to perform a task. Instead, it teaches computers how to "think" and act (somewhat) independently using algorithms. They optimize the 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.

How Do Smartphones Use AI?

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, Siri, and Samsung Bixby use data to understand users' voice commands and perform a variety of tasks.

  • 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.
  • Cortana is Microsoft's digital assistant, but the company has mostly dropped its support, including removing its apps from both the App Store and Google Play and diminishing its presence in Windows 11.
  • Google Assistant performs tasks and personalizes its responses based on your previous commands and other data, such as previous Google searches. 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 autofill your personal and payment details.
  • Siri is Apple's virtual assistant, and it's built into everything the company makes. You'll find Siri in the iPhone, iPad, Mac, Apple TV, and even the HomePod smart speaker. You can use Siri for voice searches, song identification, and controlling your devices.

Photography and Videography

AI allows smartphone users to take 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 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.

  • Who voiced the Cortana AI?

    Microsoft's Cortana assistant has different voices depending on the region. Jen Taylor is the U.S. version; she also plays Master Chief's assistant of the same name in the Halo game series.

  • How does AI work on a phone?

    For digital assistants, once you make a request, the command goes to servers that carry it out. That's a simplification, but it's generally how it works. The AI in your phone's camera is the result of "studying" thousands of other images to train it about color balance, object recognition, and other elements to optimize the photos you take.

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