We call our phones “smart,” but how intelligent are they? Anyone who has tried to use Apple’s Siri to play music on Spotify, or composed a message using voice recognition knows the answer is, “not very.”
The fact is, our phones can do certain things really well — perform searches, take photos, help us surf our social media accounts, and, yes, play music — but there is so much more they cannot do.
When we travel to a new town, our phones cannot suggest a vegetarian restaurant for dinner, and then make the reservation for us.
They cannot weed through the many possibilities presented on our dating sites to alert us to one particularly good match.
They do not tell us when a product we shopped for last week is going on sale, or if there is a better price somewhere else. They do not call an ambulance if we suddenly need help and cannot tell the medics what’s wrong.
The main reason our phones are not truly intelligent is because they lack the memory and processing speed that our minds possess.
The human brain can store around a quadrillion bytes of information, and can process entire images in as few as thirteen milliseconds, research shows. Today’s phones look pretty lame in comparison.
The advent of 5G cellular technology looming on the near horizon promises to open up a slew of new lanes on the information superhighway, reducing or even eliminating traffic jams, allowing vast quantities of data to move faster and more freely than ever before.
Enabled by innovations in memory and storage, 5G, coupled with next-generation technologies including artificial intelligence (AI), promises to transform our phones into prescient, intuitive, truly smart companions.
Given the amount and extent of mobile phone use today — the largest computing platform in the world and soon to be our only computers, some predict — the 5G/AI revolution stands to change the way we communicate, the way we work, the way we live.
As soon as next year, the advent of 5G will bring new capabilities to mobile devices which will expand the need for storage capacities of 512 GB in 2019 (and, by 2021, one terabyte), data transmission speeds of up to 20 Gbps, and bandwidths allowing connections to many devices at once including sensors and other “smart” devices such as autonomous vehicles.
These advances will enable the cell phone to move beyond its current role of passive servant to active participant, able to process vast quantities of data from a plethora of sources in real time — response times, or “latency,” will shrink — to affect our decisions, experiences, and lives in ways we can only imagine.
It will achieve this using a number of technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI).
Think of what AI can already do: recognize faces on social media (and, in some cases, on our phones); transcribe speech and translate languages; find cancer in blood samples better than humans can do; detect impending breakdowns in manufacturing equipment; fly drones and drive cars, and much more.
Many of these applications, however, depend on programmed algorithms. 5G’s expanded capacities will allow a barrage of unstructured information via video and audio streaming, still imagery, text, and code from humans, as well as from objects communicating with us and with one another.
Expanded storage and bandwidth mean our phones will enable us to monitor and communicate with our babies in incubators, for instance. They will be able to send information from smart bandages to our doctors about how our wounds are healing. They will be able to stream video games and let us play them remotely with others.
Add AI into the mix and our devices will be able to process all the data required for these tasks instantaneously and adjust its responses according to not only the current context but past lessons as well. Being able to learn will make our devices truly intelligent — to advise us to apply an antibiotic to that wound, for instance, or to change the bandage.
The advent of 5G will change the capabilities of our mobile devices, and their memory and processing requirements: For AI applications, especially, they will need more memory and much faster speeds than they now have. As a result, today’s AI applications depend on servers located in the cloud, which depend on internet connections to send and receive data. All this back-and-forth takes time, slowing processing speeds and creating data “bottlenecks.” A slow phone is hardly a smart one.
But 5G’s expanded capabilities will remove network bottlenecks by making it easier for our phones to communicate seamlessly with the cloud and also retrieve data stored on the device in real time — at the speed of human thought, or even faster. To do so, however, our phones are going to need to read and write data a lot more rapidly than they can do today.
The bigger information “pipeline” that is 5G will accommodate much more data at one time, as well. To keep all that information readily available, phones will need a vastly expanded storage capacity.
Many of today’s mobile phones use a flat, 2D flash memory storage chip known as NAND. Fast and efficient, NAND has served us well in the age of 4G, but as we use our handheld devices for more and more tasks, this form of memory will not be able to keep pace with our needs.
Our answer is a next generation of chips that stacks layers of data storage cells, taking up the same amount of space as a single NAND chip, but tripling storage capacity. And, to move all that data quickly through the expanded 5G bandwidth, we have developed a powerful low power DRAM memory — essential to the low latency that AI needs to work properly.
The combination of 5G and AI will make our smartphones truly smart, giving them intelligence that can only be beat by the human brain. For now.
Rajendra K. Talluri is senior vice president and general manager, Mobile Business at Micron Technologies