Mobile Technology: AI in Phones

A look at how artificial intelligence is transforming smartphones

When it comes to consumer technology, artificial intelligence (AI) seems to be everywhere. And the trendiest place you'll find AI lately is in your very own smartphone.

But what does AI mean, really? And how has your smartphone's design been influenced by this seemingly faddish tech trend?

What Does AI Mean? A Quick Primer

AI, also known as artificial intelligence, is the study and development of intelligent machines and computer programs that are able to simulate human intelligence. AI today usually involves building machines and programs with the ability to carry out their assigned tasks with human-like intelligence.

While it's tempting to think of AI as just another brand-new technological innovation, it's actually a well-established form of computer science with a history that goes back at least six decades. AI has grown to help create and enhance 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.

However, it's worth noting that many of the innovations we rely on today aren't just because of AI, but rather due to the development of a branch of AI known as machine learning (ML).

What Is Machine Learning?

ML is a form of artificial intelligence that involves programming machines or programs to carry out tasks by making data-driven decisions about how and when to perform those tasks. Basically, with machine learning, you're not just simply teaching a computer to perform a task. Instead, ML involves teaching machines, usually computers, how to think and act (somewhat) independently using algorithms, so they can do their tasks by making their own decisions based on analyzing data, rather than relying solely on a human's input.

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

Mobile Technology: What Makes a Smartphone So Smart?

We've come a long way from flip-phone style cell phones everyone rocked in the early aughts, but what exactly makes a smartphone so smart? It's all about what your old phones didn't have.

Unlike their predecessors, smartphones have a lot of features that distinguish them from simple mobile phones. Before smartphones, mobile phones were pretty much just that, mobile (read: portable) phones. And while some of them had a few basic apps that allowed you to do things like take low-res photos, send texts, listen to music, and track your contacts, mobile phones were still primarily used as phones and not for much else.

But smartphones possess computing capabilities much greater than just a standard mobile phone. In fact, it's often said owning a smartphone is having a small computer in your pocket.

Just look at the features a smartphone has that mobile phones either didn't have or had limited versions of: full-fledged operating systems like Android and iOS, a QWERTY keyboard, better web access, apps, and the ability to access and support multiple email accounts. Smartphones these days can offer many of the features a standard PC has and they can still call people.

But the fact that smartphones are basically portable computers isn't the only reason they're smart. In recent years, the inclusion of AI features in smartphones has only magnified and enhanced their overall intelligence.

How the AI in Smartphones Shaped Your Phone's Intelligence

AI has contributed a number of new and useful features that have helped smartphones evolve into one of the most fundamental pieces of consumer technology. Take a look at a few of AI's most influential smartphone features; these three types of AI smartphone features can be found in many smartphones today and are among the most integral to today's tech-powered lifestyle.

Voice Assistants

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

Bixby's most notable AI smartphone contribution is its Bixby Vision feature that uses image recognition to help you learn more about the objects and landmarks around you. Bixby Vision users can simply point their phone at a landmark or product to get more information about it right on their phone.

Google Assistant is probably the most data-driven of all the voice assistants, as it can perform a variety of tasks and personalize 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 for you, using AI and voice emulation to talk to employees and make a booking.

Powered, by Duplex, Google Assistant can also make your online food ordering easier by auto-filling your personal and payment details (working with select restaurant partners).

Alexa on a smartphone is still a pretty effective voice assistant and can let you control your smart-home devices even when you're not home and develop routines to automate your smart home devices. The Alexa app's interface can even adapt to your voice and vocabulary as you regularly use it.

Better Photos With AI

AI has even allowed us to improve the quality of the photos we take with our smartphones. AI has been used to take better low-light photos, better selfies, and even to add artistic-looking special effects to existing photos.

One example of AI being used to enhance smartphone photos is Google's recent feature, Super Res Zoom, which can be found on the Pixel 3 smartphone. It allows users to digitally zoom in further while taking a photo by using an algorithm rather than a lens. An AI algorithm provides users with more detailed photos without having to crop their photos later.

Facial Recognition

The best example of an AI facial recognition feature being used in a smartphone is the iPhone X's Face ID, a security feature enabling users to unlock their phones using their face. Face ID is possible because of its use of AI and machine learning algorithms to properly identify the faces of iPhone owners trying to unlock their phones.

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