AI Phones, PCs Edging Into Global Consumer Technology

Artificial intelligence-driven phones that turn photos into 3D images and PCs with interactive speakers will come a step closer to reality this week during Asia’s biggest consumer technology show.


Organizers of the Computex Taipei show with 1,685 exhibitors — including a who’s who of global high tech companies — call artificial intelligence one of their top 2019 themes.


Microchip developers Intel, Nvidia and Qualcomm are expected to talk up their latest gear during the four-day show that opens Tuesday. Memory chip maker Micron Technology says it will exhibit a “broad portfolio of memory and storage” for artificial intelligence.


“My personal expectations toward AI this year are quite high,” said Helen Chiang, general manager of market research firm IDC in Taipei. “Whether from the perspective of the information systems or the technology, I’ve got some anticipation for these device-plus things.”


Artificial intelligence — AI for short — lets computers make human-like decisions based on data collected from hardware. Classic examples available to common users now include speech recognition, e-mail spam filters and personal assistants such as Siri and Alexa.


Apps, speakers and 3D images


Almost all the world’s chief hardware and software developers say they are researching what they else can do with AI. That push promises more functions that will be built into PC operating systems and mobile phone apps.

Forrester Research, a leading industry advisory firm, predicts that artificial intelligence will reach a market value of $1.2 trillion per year by 2020 as investment triples from 2018.


Consumers should expect in the short term to find AI-assisted matchmaking apps, more chatbots used by financial services companies to talk with customers, and new tools for processing financial data, said Jamie Lin, founding partner of AppWorks Ventures, a startup accelerator in Taipei.


One app designer is working with a Taiwanese smartphone company on AI technology that would turn camera images into 3D scenes, Lin said.


“Pretty soon you’re going to see phone device ODMs (developers) coming to the market where phones that are able to capture 3D images are loaded with software to help you turn that 3D image into content that can be used for different formats, for example games or 3D playbacks of sceneries,” he said.


Among AI-enabled hardware, “smart” speakers are especially likely to reach mass markets next year, Lin added. Consumers will be able to ask them questions such as the day’s weather forecast or the latest NBA scores, he expects.


Speakers already make up the highest growth category among “smart home devices” because of their “easy” voice interface, Forrester said in a May 21 report.


The rapid expansion of AI consumer products may not last. The market research firm Gartner forecasts that growth in the business value of artificial intelligence will slow through 2025 from a peak of 70 percent to just 7 percent as companies end up seeking “niche solutions that address one need very well.”

But the show host Taiwan is forecasting a boom for now. Premier Su Tseng-chang said in mid-May the government would help train 10,000 people every year to work in AI research and development. Taiwan, a global tech hardware hub since the 1980s, already has enough engineering knowhow to draw big-name Silicon Valley firms such as Google and Microsoft to open local R&D centers.

Computex 2019


Among the Computex exhibitors, Microsoft will show AI-enabled software and applications, said Mark Linton, general manager for Microsoft’s partner-devices unit. AI features included in its Office 365 software already direct the PowerPoint program to make downloaded images “gel” into its presentations, he said.


“There’s no doubt that AI is a transformative area of the technology industry, and over time it will prove to be a major investment area for Microsoft and I think the industry as a whole,” Linton said. “And really the benefits that we’re looking to get there is to make systems and applications smarter, more intuitive.”


A lot of AI-linked gear is expected to surface this year at the show’s InnoVEX segment. This zone for startups grew last year to 388 exhibitors, and 456 have registered for the event this week.


Gartner anticipates that startup firms working with AI will overtake Amazon, Google, Microsoft and IBM this year in “driving the artificial intelligence economy” for businesses.


The Taipei show, now in its 38th year, expects to draw 5,508 exhibition booths, up nearly 10 percent over 2018. The number of exhibitors should rise 5%, the organizer said in a pre-show statement.


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