A look at Zeroth, Qualcomm’s effort to put AI in your smartphone

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What if your smartphone camera were smart enough to identify that the plate of clams and black beans appearing in its lens was actually food? What if it then automatically could make the necessary adjustments to take a decent picture of said dish in the low light conditions of a restaurant? And what if it then without prompting, uploaded that photo to Foodspotting along with your location because, your camera phone knows from past experience you like to keep an endless record of your culinary conquests for the world to see?

These are just a few of the questions that [company]Qualcomm[/company] is asking of its new cognitive computing technology Zeroth, which aims to bring artificial intelligence out of the cloud and move it – or at least a limited version of it – into your phone. At Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, I sat down with Qualcomm SVP of product management Raj Talluri, who explained what Zeroth was all about.

Zeroth phones aren’t going to beat chess Grand Masters or create its own unique culinary recipes, but it will perform basic intuitive tasks and anticipate your actions, thus eliminating many of the rudimentary steps required to operate the increasingly complex smartphone, Talluri explained.

“We wanted to see if we could build deep-learning neural networks on devices you carry with you instead of in the cloud,” Talluri said. Using that approach, Qualcomm could solve certain problems surrounding the everyday use of a device.

One such problem, Talluri called the camera problem. The typical smartphone can pick up a lot of images throughout the day, from selfies to landscape shots to receipts for your expense reports. You could load every image you have into the cloud and sort them there or figure out what to do with each photo as you snap them, but cognitive computing capabilities in your phone could do much of that work and it could it could it without you telling it what to do, Talluri said.

Zeroth can train the camera not just to recognize a landscape shot from a close up. It could determine between whole classes of objects, from fruit to mountains to buildings. It can distinguish children from adults and cats from dogs, Talluri said. What the camera does with that information depends on the user’s preferences and the application.

The most basic use case would be taking better photos as it can optimize the shot for the types of objects in them. It could also populate photos with tons of useful metadata. Then you could build on that foundation with other applications. Your smartphone might recognize, for instance, that you’re taking a bunch of landscape and architecture shots in foreign locale and automatically upload them to a vacation album on Flickr. A selfie might automatically produce a Facebook post prompt.

Zeroth devices would be pre-trained to recognize certain classes of objects – right now Qualcomm has used machine learning to create about 30 categories – but the devices could continue to learn after they’re shipped, Talluri said.

With permission, it could access your contact list and scan your social media accounts, and start recognizing the faces of your friends and family in your contact list, Talluri said. Then if you were taking a picture with a bunch of people in the frame, Zeroth would recognize your friends and focus in on their faces. Zeroth already has the ability to recognize handwriting, but you could train it to recognize the particular characteristics of your script, learning for instance that in my chicken scratch, lower case “A”s often look like “O”s.

Other examples of Zeroth applications include devices that could automatically adjust their power performance to the habits of its owner or scan its surroundings sensors to determine what a user’s most likely next smartphone action might be.

Zeroth itself isn’t a separate chip or component. It’s a software architecture designed to run across the different elements of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon processors, so as future Snapdragon products get more powerful, Zeroth becomes more intelligent, Talluri said. We’ll discuss the Zeroth capabilities and designing software that’s smarter and based on cognitive computing with a Qualcomm executive at our Structure Data event in New York later this month.

Qualcomm plans to debut the technology in next year’s premium smartphones and tablets that uses the forthcoming the Snapdragon 820, which uses a new 64-bit CPU architecture called Kyro and was announced at MWC. But Qualcomm was already showing off basic computer vision features like handwriting and object recognition on devices using the Snapdragon 810. Many of those devices were launched at MWC and should appear in markets in the coming months.

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pino

All i see is yet another battery draining feature i dont need on my phone. Ill be avoiding phones with this tech in it. Seems my next phone will be powered by a intel soc. This stuff can already be done by software which i can disable. Why would i want it build into hardware? Longer batterylife is what we want not more gimmick features we dont really need and never work optimally.

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