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MWC 2017: Offline AI revolution awaits smartphones

A Huawei logo hangs from a beam during the Mobile World Congress on the second day of the MWC in Barcelona, on February 28, 2017. Phone makers will seek to seduce new buyers with artificial intelligence functions and other innovations at the world's biggest mobile fair starting today in Spain. (Josep Lago / AFP)

A Huawei logo hangs from a beam during the Mobile World Congress on the second day of the MWC in Barcelona, on February 28, 2017.
(Josep Lago / AFP)

The smartphone revolution is poised to go onto the next level — with “superphones” equipped with artificial intelligence now on the horizon. By learning their owners’ habits, these new phones will be able to carry out tasks even when they’re offline.

During a first phase only high-end smartphones will use the technology, like the new models unveiled by China’s Huawei at the Mobile World Congress, the phone industry’s largest annual trade fair, which opened Monday in Barcelona. But the technology is quickly gaining ground.

More than 300 million smartphones — or roughly a fifth of units sold worldwide — will have the function in 2017, according to Deloitte.

“It is one of the key areas we are investing in. After the smartphone, we will have the ‘superphone’ thanks to artificial intelligence,” said Vincent Vantilcke, marketing director for Huawei in France.

South Korea’s LG and Finland’s Nokia both announced in Barcelona that they would use Google’s voice assistant — which uses artificial intelligence to answer users’ questions — in their newest handsets.

“Every big company in the sector is investing all their research and development on this,” Gartner analyst Annette Zimmermann said.

Today most smartphones run their applications by consulting data stored in external servers, known as the cloud. But the arrival of faster processors will allow smartphones to use data already stored on the device — much like a human brain does to translate words or recognise images.

“You teach a computer to analyse specific data, make sense of this data and act on it,” Zimmermann said. (Emmanuelle MICHEL/Agence France-Presse)

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