With global smartphone shipments falling by 20%, there’s plenty of momentum right now behind the bid to position generative AI as the next big thing in communication
That rectangular slab of glass on our hands from dawn to bedtime and in bed, sometimes, is today nearly three decades old – 29 years to be precise. The first version of what we’d consider a smartphone was invented in 1992 by IBM. Called the Simon Personal Communicator (or just IBM Simon), it was made available for purchase in 1994 and sold by the tens of thousands. Since the last few weeks, we are busy talking about its likely demise. OpenAI, the company which sent seismic shocks across the world with its generative AI chatbot ChatGPT, launched on November 30, 2022, and Mark Zuckerberg’s Meta have already announced plans for a new Artificial Intelligence-powered device with generative AI features.
Less reliant on screens
While Altman and Apple’s former design officer, Jony Ive, whose company, LoveForm is working on the device claimed to be spurred by altruistic motives, to create an interactive computing device that’s less reliant on screens, declining smartphone sales could be a business case behind the innovative spirit. Altman already has some experience with this thanks to his investments in Humane – a hardware and software startup co-founded by ex-Apple employees – which is developing a screenless wearable AI device that’s designed to replace smartphones. Ive is in discussions with OpenAI to build the “iPhone of artificial intelligence,” aided by over $1 billion in funding from Softbank CEO Masayoshi Son.
Large Language Model the kernel
With global smartphone shipments falling by 20% since 2021, according to Counterpoint Research, there’s plenty of momentum right now behind the bid to position generative AI as the next new thing. “With many (puzzle pieces) dropping recently, a more complete picture is emerging of LLMs (large language models) not as a chatbot, but the kernel process of a new Operating System.
Ive and Altman are aiming to create a device that provides a “more natural and intuitive user experience” to interact with artificial intelligence. The duo has taken inspiration from how the touchscreen technology on the original iPhone helped revolutionise our interaction with the mobile internet. Son is offering funding for the effort, and has reportedly pushed for chip design company Arm (which Son holds a 90 percent stake in) to play a central role.
A consensus seems to be emerging from several different corners in the tech world: More than 15 years after the introduction of the iPhone, ChatGPT and other generative AI services may soon form the foundation of a new kind of hardware device and an entirely different type of interaction between humans and computers.
Meta gets into the game
On Sept. 27 at Meta Platform Inc.’s headquarters in Menlo Park, California, Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg unveiled not just an update to the company’s Quest virtual reality goggles but also a new version of its smart glasses, which it developed with the Ray-Ban division of Luxottica Group SpA. The $299 spectacles have speakers, microphones and a camera and can livestream video and make phone calls. They will also let users pose questions to Meta’s Llama AI assistant – asking it, for example, to translate a sign or to guide them through a home repair project.
The first version of the glasses, dubbed Ray-Ban Stories and released in 2021, sold poorly. But Meta (along with Amazon.com Inc., which also released new versions of its Alexa-powered Echo Frames) is now reframing the product around generative AI.
Humane’s disappearing computer
Two of Ive’s former colleagues have revealed a bit more about how such AI-powered devices might work. Humane, a San Francisco startup founded by ex-Apple designer Imran Chaudhri and ex-Apple engineer Bethany Bongiorno, demonstrated its wearable “disappearing computer” at the TED conference in May.
The company has raised $230 million from the likes of Microsoft Corp. and OpenAI CEO Sam Altman and presumably will use a version of ChatGPT. It says it will start selling the device, dubbed the Humane Ai Pin, on November 9. On September 29, model Naomi Campbell wore a prototype at the luxury brand maker Coperni’s show at Paris Fashion Week.
The new age still seems far
Silicon Valley has been trying to end the era of iPhone dominance for a while, part of its never-ending scrum to grab the high ground in whatever new computing paradigm lurks over the horizon. While the jury is out on augmented and virtual reality – and Apple’s Vision Pro isn’t due until early next year – initial results don’t seem to promise an entirely new age of computing.
Amazon’s Echo speaker, released in 2014, was one of the first attempts to use conversational AI to peel our eyes off our screens. But it was too difficult to access third-party apps such as games and never displaced the smartphone in part because we’re simply accustomed to looking at displays and pointing, clicking and typing to enter information. That resilient paradigm was established in the 1970s with the first personal computers and a human-computer interface that Steve Jobs borrowed from Xerox PARC.
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