Frankenstein – The First True A.I.
If you’re anything like me, you’ve been a passive witness to the evolution of mobile phones. I shrugged off any real understanding of how cell phones worked by telling myself “they’re just like little computers” (If only I knew how a computer worked). This reductive mindset shoves all the interesting tidbits about how cell phones tick under the rug. A smorgasbord of sensors in your mobile phone is the real brains behind each operation – allowing you to use your phones to game, navigate, track workouts, and find nearby singles.
What’s a sensor?
A sensor is the technological equivalent of a human organ which reads environment data. For example, our eyes are light detectors, our tongue is a taste receptor. Our noses can detect the presence of chemicals through smell. On a non-biological level, a sensor is a converter which measures physical quantities and converts those quantities into signals which may be read by an observer or an instrument. Common sensors are thermometers, radar guns and red light cameras, automatic door openers, GPS, and cameras. When you begin combining sensors – things start getting very efficient, very quickly. Instead of carrying 30 gadgets, early mobile phone adopters could carry just one. And modern cellphones do so much more. As manufacturers add more and more sensors to the hardware of our phones, use cases increase astronomically.
You didn’t ask, but here you go:
Your cell phone most likely has a G-Force Meter, Linear Accelerometer, Gyroscope, Barometer, Roller Coaster, Hygrometer, Thermometer, Proximeter, Ruler, Magnetometer, Compass, GPS, Inclinometer, Light Meter, Colour Detector, Sound Meter, Tone Detector, Oscilloscope, Spectrum Analyzer, and Spectrogram.
These sensors, in combination or alone, allow your phone to function as heart rate monitors, step counters, gaming systems, activity loggers, weather stations, NFC readers, sound monitors, Bluetooth readers, kinetic monitors, etc.
Ask not what you can do for sensors, but what sensors can do for you.
If you are technically-minded, you can use Android’s HAL interface to return a list of all sensors using get_sensors_list. Most new devices support raw GNSS measurements which allows amateur developers to experiment and create their very own application. This handy table will show you if your phone supports GNSS.
Even if you aren’t a tech geek, you can still take advantage of your phone’s capabilities by using one of dozens of applications which let you visualize and manipulate your sensor data into charts, gauges, and graphs. One of the best, by far, is Physics Toolbox Sensor Suite by Vieyra Software. Used in schools to teach science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), the app collects, records, and exports data in comma separated value (CSV) format. The applications makes physics and other sciences accessible for students through fun lessons dealing with gravity and acceleration.
Think of Artificial Intelligence like Frankenstein’s Monster
Each sensor increases the environmental awareness of your phone, allowing it to react to changes. Just as sight, touch, taste, smell, and sound inform us of the world around us and allow us to react intelligently to external stimuli, phones and A.I are getting closer to guessing what users want from their device based on environmental factors.
Machine intelligence is already intrinsic to your smart device. Google Now and Google Maps make life easier by pre-preemptively guessing our desired functionality based on past experiences. My phone alerts me without fail to local traffic conditions and my expected commute time – I have never programmed the app to do so. Users have come to depend on the ability of applications to infer information not directly supplied. The inferences may be alarming at first, but consumers are quick to adapt – especially when the new technology is so useful. Auto-tagging, auto-wifi settings – automated everything is the future of smart phones.