Use that everyday AI in your pocket


By J.D. Biersdorfer, The New York Times Company

Virtual assistants usually hog the spotlight when it comes to talk of artificial intelligence software on smartphones and tablets. But Apple’s Siri, Google Assistant, Samsung’s Bixby and company aren’t the only tools using machine learning to make life easier — other common programs use the technology, too.

Here is a quick tour through some common AI-driven apps and how you can manage them.

Device Security

When you set up a new device, you are usually invited to “enroll” in its facial recognition security program, which captures your image and analyzes it so the program will recognize you in different looks and lighting situations. Later, when you want to unlock the device or use apps like digital payment systems, the camera confirms that your face matches the stored data so you can proceed.

If you decide to use the feature, check your device maker’s privacy policy to see where that data is stored. For example, Apple states that “Face ID data does not leave your device,” and Google says it stores face data on the security chips on its Pixel phones. If you sign up and then have second thoughts, you can always go into your phone’s Face ID or Face Unlock settings, delete or reset the data, turn off the feature and stick with a passcode.

Photo Apps

Apple’s Photos and Google Photos use artificial intelligence in several ways, including facial recognition, scene detection and image analysis to automatically sort pictures of people, places and things into albums. This sorting saves you from manually tagging everything and makes it easier to find specific photos in a keyword search. (Apple and Google have technical papers about facial recognition on their sites.)

Apple says all the facial recognition and scene detection in its Photos app is performed locally on the device. You can also edit the People album.

Google Photos retains the face-grouping data in your Google Account. In the settings, you can turn off the face groupings and edit the descriptive tags.

The default camera apps use machine learning in the image processing to produce sharper photos. Apple’s Scene Detection and Photographic Styles features enhance the image based on what is in the picture, and the blur- and noise-reduction editing tools in Google Photos use AI to improve images.

Writing Aids

If you have ever been typing along on your phone’s keyboard and noticed suggested words for what you might type next, that is machine learning in action. Apple’s iOS software includes a predictive text function that bases its suggestions on your past conversations, Safari browser searches and other sources.

Google’s Gboard keyboard for Android and iOS can offer word suggestions, and Google has a Smart Compose tool for Gmail and other text-entry apps that draws on personal information collected in your Google Account to tailor its word predictions. Samsung has its own predictive text software for its Galaxy devices.

The suggestions may save you time, and Apple and Google both state that the customized predictions based on your personal information remain private. Still, if you would like fewer algorithms in your business, turn it off. On an iPhone (or iPad), you can turn off Predictive Text in the Keyboard settings.


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