CES 2024: Qualcomm CEO Envisions Smartphones as Pervasive’ AI-Powered Personal Assistants

Amid all the chatter about AI at CES last week, the Qualcomm keynote was largely about how our phones — and other devices — are set to become AI-powered virtual assistants that will learn everything about us.

Despite the logistical and regulatory challenges of bringing AI to smartphones, Qualcomm CEO Cristiano Amon told attendees, Part of our job is to create a computing engine that is going to [enable] that technology to run pervasively. Right now, we’re at a point where those capabilities are becoming available. The next step is the development of the use cases and the applications, and we’re starting to see those things coming to life, whether they’re in phones, in computers, and in cars.”

Amon explained what he meant by running pervasively.” He said, Think of something as simple as this. You use your phone every day, and you send texts, and everything that you type could be a query for the AI. The AI is always thinking, is this a question for me?’ and then yes, this is something for me, it’s talking about getting together, so here’s the availability on your calendar, do you want to send a meeting invite?’ Or, if you’re discussing what a great time you had last night, the AI will bring up the photos and ask if you want to share them. So, it’s going to be this assistant that is with you all the time.”

So, how will the user experience of our phones change?

Amon added that this technology will dramatically streamline how we interact with our phone. For example, today when booking a meeting, we might open our calendar app to look at our availability, then our text app to message that availability and agree on a time, then open a meeting room reservation app to book the space, then go back to our text app to confirm. 

He said, Right now, you have all these apps, and you go in and out of different apps. You won’t need to do that anymore. And now, imagine there is an AI engine that is predicting your movements and learning from you. For example, if you have AI in your car, and you always leave the office at a certain time and call home, it will ask if you want to call home at that time. These areas are where we’re going to see a change in user experience.” 

Amon also observed, When you send a query to an AI service on the cloud, the cloud doesn’t know you and it just gives you an answer. But where the cloud and the device are working together, the device has real context — where are you, who are you, what is the relevance of that information? That’s what makes all this very exciting and transformative.”

When asked about privacy concerns with all that personal data being recorded, Amon responded, All the information [it learns about you] stays on the device.”

But does all that mean device users’ lives will become easier?

Amon’s words were echoed at a panel event titled​“AI and Mobile Technology — Smarter Tech” by his colleague Zaid Asghar, Senior Vice President of Product Management at Qualcomm, who also predicted that AI will be used a lot more in future as a virtual personal assistant on our devices, and that it will take many mundane tasks away.

Asghar said, From a consumer perspective, the value is immense. Let’s say you’re looking for a dinner reservation. Today you’d go through one application to find restaurants with high star ratings, then you might go to a map to see which is closest to you, then you’d go to the restaurant application to make a reservation. Whereas, when you have one of these large language model AI assistants running on your device, you’d simply say, Make a reservation for me, for two people at 7pm, at an Italian restaurant within three miles with a very high Yelp rating.’ Or, with large vision models, you can change the background of your photos. All this really changes the way we interact with our devices.”

He added that a lot of other mundane and time-consuming tasks could be taken on by the AI assistant, leaving users free to concentrate on human-only creative tasks. For example, this presentation, if your phone is recording it, you can ask the assistant to transcribe it, summarize the key salient points from the presentation, and create a PowerPoint deck, which you can use in your next meeting.”

Both Qualcomm speakers gave no timelines for this scenario to become a reality, and given the hurdles, it could be longer than they are both optimistically envisioning. But perhaps one day, at future CES events, it will be a reality — and maybe the AI assistant will even write these articles itself.

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