The Huawei Mate 10 and 10 Pro have finally been formalized and are being presented as the first smartphones to be equipped with a chip dedicated to artificial intelligence. Do these phones actually introduce any useful new features or are they just overstating the importance of what are ultimately small and natural improvements to already existing features?
AI: from science-fiction to reality
The concept of artificial intelligence has been on the minds of all smartphone manufacturers this year. AI sells since it has become associated with Hollywood science fiction movies such as Steven Spielberg’s “AI”, Skynet in “Terminator”, the Nexus in “Blade Runner”, Samantha in “Her”, the androids in “Alien” and “Prometheus”, etc… Google and Microsoft have both announced that AI is the next step in mobile technology. However, Microsoft has not exactly been the most successful company in the mobile technology industry.
In short, everyone is currently talking about artificial intelligence which has now officially become part of smartphone technology. Huawei was the second manufacturer to implement AI, following Apple (but, being clever, they were the first ones to announce their intention to incorporate AI into their device). Huawei has launched the Mate 10 Pro, a smartphone with a chip dedicated to artificial intelligence. We have previously spoken about the advantages of such an approach, but at the time of its announcement, no tangible applications had been envisaged – in the world of mobile telephony – for the Kirin 970 processor.
Huawei Mate 10: just a smartphone after all
If you were dreaming of a smartphone so intelligent that it would go beyond being a smartphone, you will need to keep on dreaming, because this is not the case with the Mate 10. Instead, the AI which this Chinese manufacturer has integrated into its device is not at all revolutionary, but rather the next logical step in the development of innovations – which were already present in previous models, namely the Mate 9 – which have simply been accelerated (or are supposed to have been accelerated) by a dedicated chip.
Efforts have been concentrated on two areas in particular: optimizing the phone’s performance and improving photo quality. Huawei was already talking about "machine learning” to help its Mate 9 "stay fast". And artificial intelligence as it applies to photography is simply a further refinement of operations already performed by Image Signal Processors (ISPs) – with, however somewhat improved detection of subjects and objects.
The term artificial intelligence is a buzz word which is thrown around without explaining what it really means, and Huawei has used it without specifying exactly what operations are carried out by its new chip. This AI chip is essentially a processor optimized to perform certain types of operations in order to take some of the load off of the CPU. It is easy to understand how this could have a positive effect on battery autonomy and how this type of dedicated chip could make the Mate 10 Pro more responsive and capable of taking better photos.
Huawei does not have its own virtual assistant
People generally tend to associate the notion of artificial intelligence with more ambitious goals such as creating virtual assistants such as Cortana or the Google Assistant and furthering the understanding of natural language by machines in order to achieve science-fiction dreams which are fast becoming reality. And Huawei has played into this notion by making its Mate 10 speak in the first person in its presentation videos – a very old trick already used during the presentation of the first Macintosh computer and subsequently during the presentations of Cortana and Siri.
The irony is that in the domain of virtual assistants, the Mate 10 has not introduced any innovations: it does not have any personal home assistant at all, and maybe that’s not such a bad thing. The more unspectacular application of artificial intelligence to invisible domains such as system optimization – if done effectively – could prove to be of greater value than allowing a smartphone’s users to have conversations with a robot. This makes Huawei’s unspecific claims regarding its implementation of artificial intelligence all the more frustrating: instead of using buzz words to describe its product, we would have preferred that Huawei give more details regarding its product’s specific functionality.