AI is already here—and it’s not just services like ChatGPT, Bing, or the upcoming Google Bard. Developers have already infused AI into products you use every day, with further improvements to come.
That’s a scary concept to some. AI can make “dumb” devices smarter, but at the cost of knowing more about you and your daily lives. AI isn’t perfect, either—and our tolerance for its mistakes is evolving, just as the technology is. However, manufacturers across the board will continue to use AI in a bid to keep improving their products.
Let’s throw some light on just where AI is already touching your daily life, and new services that can help you improve it further.
Your smartphone camera’s portrait mode
Let’s start with one you already know. Traditional “dumb” SLR cameras can create a photographic effect called “bokeh,” where the background becomes blurred under certain conditions. This serves to highlight the subject of the photo, and distinguish it from the insignificance of the background.
Today’s smartphones—pretty much all of them, from Apple’s iPhone to Android smartphones—replicate that effect using AI. “Portrait mode” uses what the camera “knows” of the scene to judge what it thinks is the subject, and then intelligently blurs the background. Where “good” smart bokeh differs from “bad” bokeh is often how intelligently the camera judges the dividing line between foreground and background. A thick, blurry line around your selfie, or a shot where part of your face or hair ends up blurred and out of focus, is often the difference between a “good” and “bad” selfie. And who wants that?
Mark Hachman / IDG
Finally, be aware that the Qualcomm Snapdragon chips powering many of the world’s top Android smartphones are already trying to detect what you’re shooting and enhance it before you take the photo, using AI to improve cellular connections, and more.
Nvidia’s Deep Learning Super Sampling (DLSS) sounds impenetrable, but the technology is quite simple: By knowing what part of the scene you’re looking at, DLSS can focus your GPU’s rendering power there. In real life, that means that GPUs focus their horsepower on just what you’re looking at. That maximizes your game’s frame-rate performance, delivering a better, smoother experience.
DLSS is several years old. Nvidia debuted DLSS 2.0 in 2020, and we’d expect further development as time goes on. However, as GPUs stubbornly refuse to come down in price, DLSS at least stands as a technology that can extend the longevity of your GPU and enable solid gameplay for years. And it’s all premised on AI, and what your GPU knows about humans playing games.
Now, let’s move on to the AI of the future. ChatGPT looks amazing, as it’s a conversational chatbot that can be used for search, as a conversation, coding—the potential applications are numerous and diverse. It’s free (though with a $20/mo paid version that guarantees access), and we’d encourage you to try it out on what you don’t know as well as what you know. You’ll see that it can be shallower than what you’d might like, sometimes “hallucinates” false data, but that it can stimulate ideas for you to develop. It’s also a bit more “loose” in how it approaches various topics, so that you have the freedom to customize its responses.
Don’t treat ChatGPT as an infallible oracle, nor as a replacement for your current job. Twenty-five years ago, however, 3Dfx and Rendition were debuting 3D graphics that looked like a jumble of triangles. We would assume that the technology will continue to improve.
Mark Hachman / IDG
Bing Chat AI
Bing’s AI chatbot (typically referred to as just Bing) is currently in trials. It’s both stuffier and determinedly more friendly than ChatGPT, with a sprinkling of emoji at the end of its responses. I was shocked when its content guardrails failed (after Microsoft spent six years putting them in place), but Microsoft also quickly moved to fix them. (Here’s our hands-on with Bing Chat.)
Right now, Bing delivers lengthier responses, and footnotes its answers so you can check them yourself or follow up for more content. Is it better? That’s hard to say. For now, it’s entirely free, though it requires a Microsoft subscription. Google’s Bard also promises the same basic features as Bing or ChatGPT, but until it shows up, it’s largely a two-horse race.
Face and scene recognition in photos
One of the consequences of always having a camera in our pocket is the risk that we’ll never be able to find our photos again. “Smart” albums, including Google Photos, allow you to organize your photos both by subject as well as the scene. It’s really nice to be able to search a photo as easily as you search Gmail, either for the scene or location (“Bahamas”) or simply clicking on the face of your kids, grandmother, or best friend.
A photos app like the Windows Photos Legacy app can search the metadata attached to the photo to determine the location, but that’s not much help if you want to search for “ski trip” or the “mountains” of Washington or Colorado. There, you’ll find that AI is scanning the photo to determine what’s in the scene.
Mark Hachman / IDG
You’ll need to go into the Settings menus of apps to enable these recognition features. However, AI search might already be there on your phone: Try clicking the search icon within the Gallery app on a Samsung Galaxy camera, and you’ll likely see facial recognition already there and ready to go.
Visual identification dates all the way back to the original Microsoft Kinect: Remember how the Kinect technology for the Xbox could automatically recognize you? Talk about a technology that was way ahead of its time. Now, Windows Hello uses a depth camera on your laptop to do the same thing. You can argue that it’s not truly AI, as the technology essentially is matching your real-life visage against a stored record. But it’s likely that Microsoft is thinking about how AI could be used to accommodate changes in your face, with new glasses, wrinkles, or a beard complicating matters.
Making you beautiful on cam
Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and other services already blur your backgrounds, hiding the mess you forgot to pick up last night or entertaining your coworkers with a fun background. Microsoft’s Windows Studio Effects use AI on the Microsoft Surface Pro 9 (5G) to filter out background noise, pan and zoom, and more. Samsung’s new Galaxy Book3 laptops even try to smooth out wrinkles and bags from under your eyes. All of these are AI features you’d rather not give up, we’d bet.
For now, set aside concerns about training generative AI art on copyrighted images, or potential threats to small artists and their commissions. For small projects—say, a bake sale, Back to School night, or a church breakfast—generative AI art may prove to be a handy bit of casual clip art that can be brought in on a custom basis. There are a number of AI art services that are just emerging: Microsoft Designer looks like it could be quite handy, some of the art we’ve seen from Midjourney is simply breathtaking, and Stable Diffusion works right on your PC.
Mark Hachman / IDG via Midjourney
Human-authored digital art isn’t going away. Still, we can’t help but think of it as a travel agent: An agent can craft a magnificent custom travel package, but sometimes you’d rather save the commission and book through Google Flights, Tripadvisor, or another service yourself instead. Decide what works for you.
You.com isn’t a big name in AI yet, but that’s not to say that it won’t be. Implementing search, an AI chatbot, and generative AI art in the same interface makes it worth checking out. It’s also totally free (it takes a small commission from Walmart in search results) and otherwise ad-free.
Speech / voice recognition
We don’t think much of Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Home devices using AI, but they obviously do in simply parsing your words (and distinguishing them from background noise), comprehending them, and then responding. You can even ask a smart assistant to recognize your voice and tailor actions, such as a reminder or appointment—to you, rather than other members of the family. Natural-language processing is part and parcel of AI, in how it intuits meaning from your words and phrases. In fact, society seems to prefer that AI technology not listen on our conversations, which is why the idea of a trigger phrase came into being.
Journalists love Otter.ai and similar tools, because they can automatically transcribe spoken interview audio into text that’s easily transcribed into text. However, it doesn’t seem too hard to peer into a future where that’s just the norm, and not a paid service.
Autocorrections and autosuggestions
Whether it’s your phone’s keyboard, Gmail, or Microsoft Editor, autocorrections and autosuggestions simply take what it knows of what you’re writing and suggests a correction, the next word, or even a whole phrase to save you time and effort. Yes, autocorrect trips up, often humorously. But it can absolutely save you time when typing out a long email on your phone.
This same technology is moving onto the PC, either in apps like Google Workspace or Microsoft Editor. Editor and Microsoft Word have quietly improved upon mere spelling and grammar suggestions to analyzing your copy for inclusiveness and tone, to what we’d assume will be more powerful content creation as Microsoft infuses the Office apps with AI.
Unfortunately, not all of us like the recommendations that Google, or Netflix, or ad servers deliver to us. There’s a theoretical trade-off: Give an algorithm more data, and its advice will improve. Anecdotally, that’s true to some extent. Where the system breaks down is where a service has to balance what it thinks we’ll like versus what it’s paid to recommend—and we often can’t tell the difference. We still think that Netflix and Spotify, for example, do a fairly good job matching our preferences to the content they suggest.
There are even more that we didn’t list: automated fraud detection, scheduling appointments in Outlook, even your own PC’s security defenses. Go beyond the PC, and the applications for AI grow even greater. The fact is, though, that even as what AI could do might make us a little nervous, it’s also become synonymous with improvements in our daily life.