It’s become apparent that the mobile device in your pocket is X* times more powerful than all the computers used to get Apollo 11 to the moon and back. It’s certainly true that the average iPhone is, by certain measures, 100,000 times more powerful than all the computers NASA used in 1969. Although there are caveats to that: firstly, NASA only created as much computing power as they needed, and it did the job; secondly, your iPhone couldn’t actually run a lunar mission (at least, not without installing some really expensive new apps). However, there is no doubt that the technology we carry with us everywhere has astonishing capacities, and this is why all major developers are looking towards i-(intelligent) apps for the future.
Up until quite recently, said major developers mainly worked on responsive mobile data, i.e., you tell your device what you want it to do, and it does it for you. Now, with the huge and ever expanding capacity of such devices, developers are looking more towards focusing efforts on artificial intelligence (AI) functioning. In 2019 Google announced that the entire company was re-gearing to move away from mobile-first attitudes and towards AI-first attitudes. i-apps are essentially apps that take over some of the heavy lifting by making assumptions based on your past and current behaviours; a basic example might be that when you ask your device for a list of nearby restaurants, if it knows from previous data that Chinese is your favourite, it will put Chinese restaurants at the top of the list. AI algorithms can help choose anything for you, from your optimal holiday destination to the books you read when you get there.
Most of us already have i-apps in our lives without even realising it: Alexa, Siri and Google Assistant are all i-apps, combining machine learning, processing, and natural language generation techniques. When you turn on Netflix and it suggests a film for you, that is an i-app, something that has taken your demographic and previous behaviour to offer you what it thinks most appropriate. There’s a lot more to i-apps than simply helping you be a “better” consumer though, apps are being developed that can monitor health in real-time, help the visually impaired navigate the world, help those from different language cultures to communicate and so forth.
Alongside this, of course, as with all technological innovations, there are some concerns. How much of our life do we want to commit to apps? What are the long term consequences for our mental capacities if we shift so much of our daily thinking tasks onto a device? Do we want companies like Amazon, Google, Facebook etc to continue to allow their i-apps to gather even more data about us so that they can be more helpful? Sure, it’s useful, but is the price worth it?
Perhaps the major question, maybe more so for the older generation who have grown up without these taken-for-granted conveniences, is this: will increasing reliance on i-apps actually make us more stupid? I’m sorry, I can’t answer that for you – I’ll have to go and ask Alexa.
*a thousand, a million, a billion, depending on to whom you’re talking and how close to closing time it is