We are a species obsessed with ‘intelligence’ since gaining consciousness. We have always been inventing ways to make our lives better through sheer imagination and application of our intelligence. Now, it comes as no surprise that we want our modern day creations to be smart as well – be it a web app or a mobile app. The first question that comes to mind then is what makes an application ‘intelligent’?
A simple answer for budding developers is that intelligent apps are apps that can take intuitive decisions or provide customized recommendations/experience to their users based on insights drawn from data collected from their interaction with humans.
This brings up a whole set of new questions: How can intelligent apps be implemented, what are the challenges, what are the primary application areas of these so-called Intelligent apps, and so on.
Let’s start with the first question.
How can intelligence be infused into an app?
The answer has many layers just like an app does. The monumental growth in data science and its underlying data infrastructure has allowed machines to process, segregate and analyze huge volumes of data in limited time. Now, it looks set to enable machines to glean meaningful patterns and insights from the very same data.
One such interesting example is predicting user behavior patterns. Like predicting what movies or food or brand of clothing the user might be interested in, what songs they might like to listen to at different times of their day and so on. These are, of course, on the simpler side of the spectrum of intelligent tasks that we would like our apps to perform. Many apps currently by Amazon, Google, Apple, and others are implementing and perfecting these tasks on a day-to-day basis.
Complex tasks are a series of simple tasks performed in an intelligent manner. One such complex task would be the ability to perform facial recognition, speech recognition and then use it to perform relevant daily tasks, be it at home or in the workplace. This is where we enter the realm of science fiction where your mobile app would recognise your voice command while you are driving back home and sends automated instructions to different home appliances, like your microwave, AC, and your PC so that your food is served hot when you reach home, your room is set at just the right temperature and your PC has automatically opened the next project you would like to work on. All that happens while you enter your home keys-free thanks to a facial recognition software that can map your face and ID you with more than 90% accuracy, even in low lighting conditions.
APIs like IBM Watson, AT&T Speech, Google Speech API, the Microsoft Face API and some others provide developers with tools to incorporate features such as those listed above, in their apps to create smarter apps.
It sounds almost magical! But is it that simple? This brings us to the next question.
What are some developmental challenges for an intelligent app?
The challenges are different for both web and mobile apps.
Challenges for intelligent web apps
For web apps, choosing the right mix of algorithms and APIs that can implement your machine learning code into a working web app, is the primary challenge. plenty of Web APIs like IBM Watson, AT&T speech etc. are available to do this. But not all APIs can perform all the complex tasks we discussed earlier. Suppose you want an app that successfully performs both voice and speech recognition and then also performs reinforcement learning by learning from your interaction with it. You will have to use multiple APIs to achieve this. Their integration into a single app then becomes a key challenge.
Here is why.
Every API has its own data transfer protocols and backend integration requirements and challenges. Thus, our backend requirement increases significantly, both in terms of data persistence and dynamic data availability and security. Also, the fact that each of these smart apps would need customized user interface designs, poses a challenge to the front end developer. The challenge is to make a user interface so fluid and adaptive that it supports the different preferences of different smart apps. Clearly, putting together a smart web app is no child’s play. That’s why, perhaps, smart voice-controlled apps like Alexa are still merely working as assistants and providing only predefined solutions to you. Their ability to execute complex voice-based tasks and commands is fairly low, let alone perform any non-voice command based task.
Challenges for intelligent mobile apps
For intelligent mobile apps, the challenges are manifold. A key reason is network dependency for data transfer. Although the advent of 4G and 5G mobile networks has greatly improved mobile network speed, the availability of network and the data transfer speeds still pose a major challenge. This is due to the high volumes of data that intelligent mobile apps require to perform efficiently. To circumvent this limitation, vendors like Google are trying to implement smarter APIs in the mobile’s local storage. But this approach requires a huge increase in the mobile chip’s computation capabilities – something that’s not currently available. Maybe that’s why Google has also hinted at jumping into the chip manufacturing business if their computation needs are not met. Apart from these issues, running multiple intelligent apps at the same time would also require a significant increase in the battery life of mobile devices.
Finally, comes the last question.
What are some key applications of intelligent apps?
We have explored some areas of application in the previous sections keeping our focus on just web and mobile apps. Broadly speaking, whatever makes our daily life easier, is ideally a potential application area for intelligent apps. From controlling the AC temperature automatically to controlling the oven and microwave remotely using the vacuum cleaner (of course the vacuum cleaner has to have robotic AI capabilities) to driving the car, everything falls in the domain of intelligent apps.
The real questions for us are
- What can we achieve with our modern computation resources and our data handling capabilities?
- How can mobile computation capabilities and chip architecture be improved drastically so that we can have smart apps perform complex tasks faster and ease our daily workflow?
Only the future holds the answer. We are rooting for the day when we will rise to become a smarter race by delegating lesser important yet intelligent tasks to our smarter systems by creating intelligent web and mobile apps efficiently and effectively. The culmination of these apps along with hardware driven AI systems could eventually lead to independent smart systems – a topic we will explore in the coming days.