The advent of certain technologies — notably inexpensive high-speed internet, secure cloud storage, mobility solutions, and low-cost devices — has allowed the fantastic possibilities of the past to become reality. One of the platforms that has been enabled is artificial intelligence. And AI’s ability to process information, at high speeds and at scale, unleashes endless new opportunities and infinitely better management of processes, systems, networks, and information.
In 2016, we use voice-recognition systems to turn on lamps, driverless cars are being trialed, and robot hotel receptionists work in Japan. In fact, every industry — from health care to finance to travel to fashion — is being affected by new AI technologies. These applications can help travelers plan vacations, doctors select the right treatment plans for patients, and lawyers find important legal research in a much shorter time.
Perhaps the biggest area being affected by the rise of AI is mobile. Mobile devices put AI at consumers’ fingertips through the likes of Siri, Cortana, Alexa, and Google Assistant, personal digital assistants embedded in your smartphone.
For now, however, personal assistants are simply that — assistants. They can’t make connections or fully understand the patterns of everyday life. And they don’t learn from interactions, as truly artificial intelligent applications running on platforms built by IBM, Facebook, Google, and others can.
But this is about to change. According to Gartner, by year-end 2018, consumer digital assistants will recognize individuals by face and voice across channels, and by 2020 smart agents will facilitate 40 percent of mobile interactions. Gartner also predicts that virtual personal assistants agents will “monitor user content and behavior in conjunction with cloud-hosted neural networks to build and maintain data models from which the technology will draw inferences about people, content and contexts.”
So while Siri, Alexa, and Cortana won’t be appearing as super-human life forms anytime soon, what Gartner’s prediction does foreshadow is that they will become a huge trove of data for companies and consumers alike to tap into.
Personal assistants aren’t the only way devices will get smarter. Applications — programs that live in the mobile-first world — are gradually becoming more entwined with the devices themselves. Rather than simply checking for an IP connection and basic device characteristics, applications will find themselves diving deeper into handsets they live on and peering into the networks that serve them, enabling customers to enjoy a more seamless experience.
These smarter applications will transform the handset from a mere assistant to an essential, particularly when a user is in unfamiliar territory. Earlier we mentioned that new AI applications can help consumers plan trips, providing hotel and restaurant recommendations, for example. But if you’re traveling to a foreign country (and, crucially, a foreign network), having an AI-capable smartphone is one thing, but having a connected, AI-enabled smartphone is quite another. Cross-border mobility will be a fundamental expectation, as users will refuse to tolerate their smart device being hamstrung by outdated network approaches to roaming. AI could herald the end of the era of roaming, which represents a great opportunity for operators.
With the ability to quickly analyze massive amount of consumer behavior and data, mobile devices with artificial intelligence applications can recognize a person the way humans recognize other people — by individual characteristics. It’s now possible to analyze and recognize multiple facets of an individual and use these together to make a picture of “you.” This goes beyond just simple voice or facial recognition. For example, some video games use AI to analyze the way a person speaks and their body language. There are also AI applications that can actually detect and distinguish animals in the wild through a smartphone camera. From a picture, the application can provide information like the scientific name of the animal and other details a person likely wouldn’t pick up on their own.
Ultimately, AI will make it possible for the network itself to adapt to the needs of the end users, reconfiguring for bandwidth and speed dynamically as the end user population moves around.
Networks provide a seamless use of any and all communications paths. For example, you don’t need to know if you are on Wi-Fi or a cell network to make a call using Facetime on your iPhone — it just works. The key is, right now it runs on top of existing network paradigms. Imagine a mobile device on which the user doesn’t even have to think about cell coverage or Wi-Fi, their phone just connects to any network available, including IoT networks, Bluetooth, and others.
For consumers, the most exciting promise of artificial intelligence is having phones that can take care of menial daily tasks. For businesses, the data behind artificial intelligence will really change the way they operate and utilize information. The massive amounts of data that AI systems can process in short periods of time can provide companies with invaluable insights about their customers’ behavior and point to how they can adjust their business practices to better meet the needs and demands of customers.
There is little argument that AI is going to change the way people live, work, and behave. What is an open question is whether today’s era of data operators will become the catalyst of that change. To succeed, AI needs to become critical, and the first operator to discover the “killer” AI application that becomes a basic expectation of a smartphone, rather than a gimmicky extra, will open up a market of infinite opportunity.