We expect a lot out of smartphones today, but some technology and human behavior scientists believe that mobile computing devices can do even more if only they knew more about their owners.
Tinkering with cameras, microphones, software and other features inside today’s smartphones, a team of researchers inside Intel Labs is exploring ways to improve the Intelligence Quotient of future smartphones so they’re not just more efficient, but more intuitive about their owner. This was the topic of a recent Future Labs podcast interview.
“We’re making systems much more aware of the user and what they’re trying to do,” said Lama Nachman, a senior researcher at Intel Labs in the podcast. “And then essentially facilitate, act on their behalf, and make recommendations. So devices become much more personalized to us and our needs.”
The driving concept behind this context-aware research is to develop artificial intelligence by enabling mobile devices to grow wiser as they build and tap into a database of specific information about owner behavior, movement and even mood.
Researchers such as Nachman say that people would have to train their phone by capturing and identifying sound patterns and images in the owner’s world. If a phone owner was at home riding a stationary bike, researchers say, the phone could discern that the rider was indoors, and screen calls accordingly. Simultaneously, it could track how long the user was on the bike and feed that information to an exercise application on the owner’s phone.
Nachman said being able to track one’s own activities like commuting, watching TV or chatting with work colleagues might help people better optimize the way they use their time in the same way that financial software lets us manage our personal finances. Applications could even use data to help the owner by reminding him or her to “take the stairs” or “there’s time between meetings, take a 5-minute walk.”
These background-sensing technologies raise questions about privacy. Today, commercially developed applications require people to accept terms and conditions before they can be used. Since wiretapping is illegal in the United States, cell phones can’t automatically turn themselves on and start recording conversations.
Andrew Campbell, a professor of Computer Science at Dartmouth College, said users need to be kept in the loop in this area of “active computer learning,” and developers must find ways to ensure that users keep control of their personal data.
“This issue of privacy is an Achilles heel when you’re looking to advance science,” said Campbell. “These sensors are an extraordinary opportunity and there has to be good solutions to preserve people’s privacy. We must allow them [device owners] to own their data. It’s a double-edged sword because we want to innovate at the same time.”