The rise of artificial intelligence in our smartphones

8 November 2017

Whether it’s Siri, Bixby or Google Assistant, if you’re about to unbox a shiny new smartphone, there’s a good chance it’s preloaded with your very own voice-activated AI software. But what is it actually there for? Well, as it happens, an awful lot.

But despite the big names in mobile pumping millions into AI technology, virtual assistants remain seriously under-used. And that’s a shame, because the majority of smartphone users are missing out on all manner of useful life hacks.

Here at EE, though, we’re determined to change all that. So let’s take a look at how AI has taken over the smartphone world – and how it can actually improve your life.

How on earth did you know that, Siri?
These days, most smartphones will start getting to know you the moment they’re set up. What do we mean? Well, ever noticed that your iPhone keeps suggesting that odd, obscure word that only you and your mates use when you’re messaging? That’s because it’s picking up on words you use most and taking it on board. It’s learning – machine learning-style!

And while it might seem a little weird at first, interacting with your AI assistant is key. The more it gets to know you, the more precise it’ll be. We know it’s frustrating when it’s not 100 per cent correct at the first attempt, but did you know you can actually correct it? With Siri, for instance, you can use the ‘tap to edit’ feature to tweak your question – and your AI assistant will remember the info for next time and do better. Yep, it’s actually getting to know you and your personal needs.

And it’s not just you. Since AI assistants communicate with remote servers rather than your phone’s processor, the more people that use them, the more epic and knowledgeable they get.

Of course, there’s some astoundingly clever tech going on behind the scenes. Researchers use a process called deep learning to ‘train’ software with data, and teach it to make inferences based on what it sees. For example, they might feed it with thousands of photos of Chihuahuas, and in time, your smartphone will learn exactly what a Chihuahua is – without getting annoyed when they bark at the postman.

Yes, yes – all very clever. But here’s what it can do for you...
Most of us pride ourselves on being on-trend, switched on and tech-savvy. We stream movies and music on our phones, connect with our mates on Snapchat or Instagram, and rely on Google Maps to get from A to B. Therefore it’s surprising how few of us switch on our phone’s AI assistant. It’s about time we changed all that.

Need a reason? Well, if you’re the kind of person who finds it impossible to organise your chaotic life; Siri, Bixby and Alexa really can really help you out. Need a nudge to remember all of those important dates? Just wake up your personal assistant, tell it not to forget your best mate’s birthday next month, and it’ll drop you a helpful hint nearer the time.

Sending messages. Making lists. Setting reminders. Checking the weather. Ordering a taxi.  It’s all in a day’s work for your virtual assistant. It’ll even recommend a decent Chinese restaurant and make a reservation for you. You can pair your device with smart lighting like Philips Hue too, and dim the lights from your smartphone. All this with a simple voice command.

And it doesn’t stop there. There are so many ways AI can improve your life. Google Photos, for instance, provides a really smart example of how clever AI tech has become, and how our devices can learn from everything we feed them. It’s so much more than just a folder to store your Sunday-morning-brunch-pictures. Google Photos picks up on visual cues in your shots and uses them to categorise your collection. You can even search through your library for a specific person by tagging them in one photo – so it learns who they are. Put simply, your smartphone now recognises your mum. Pretty clever, huh?

So what comes next?
If the idea of having a virtual butler (like J.A.R.V.I.S. from Iron Man!) is your ultimate fantasy, you’ll be excited to hear about Samsung’s big plans for Bixby. The tech giant doesn’t just make smartphones, after all. Got a Samsung TV, oven or washing machine? Well, in the not-too-distant future you’ll likely be controlling it with a simple voice command, just like Tony Stark. Just don’t expect to be soaring through the clouds in that red and yellow flying suit anytime soon, though. Sorry.

Experts also predict big changes to health apps. Lots of people are using their mobiles as fitness trackers these days, but soon they’ll be able to gather data from phone sensors and check whether you’re fit and healthy, or pushing your body too hard.

Your smartphone’s camera is going to play a bigger role, too. Ever been out for a walk in the woods and spotted a plant you don’t know the name of? Well, Google Lens, available later this year, will scan it and tell you exactly what species it is. It’s quick, accurate, and more knowledgeable than even Alan Titchmarsh.

Or maybe you’re baffled by all those confusing street signs or restaurant menus on holiday in Beijing? Just point your smartphone at any word, and you’ll get an instant translation.

In short, our smartphones are becoming more useful than we ever imagined – tailored to improve our lives, and leave more time for the fun stuff. Because life’s too short for the boring stuff!

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