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The dawn of AI phones: is this the road to perdition or productivity?

I recently attended an online briefing for OPPO’s AI strategy. Oh how things move so fast. Back in the pandemic, ChatGPT was introduced as an awkwardly fun service that had scary implications. Today, we are witnessing the dawn of AI built into hardware. Microsoft had recently announced Copilot built into their new line of AI PC’s with the debut line from Snapdragon. OPPO has done the same with the first wave of AI phones — not a special set of phones, but wanting AI tools — including generative AI, to be present in all of their units. I quote:

With their large global reach, advanced connectivity, and multimodal capabilities, smartphones are well-positioned as the most important personal AI device. Despite the ubiquity of smartphones, however, OPPO believes that AI should not remain exclusive to just flagship phones and selected users but should instead be accessible to more users around the world.

“With our relentless efforts and commitment, OPPO aims to make AI phones accessible to everyone, ” said Billy Zhang, President of Overseas MKT, Sales and Service at OPPO. “For the first time in the industry, OPPO is bringing generative AI to all product lines. By the end of this year, we expect to bring generative AI features to about 50 million users.”

I have to admit I’m a little scared. I’ve been writing about technology for two decades and the first alarm bells were when Facebook became free to use for everybody in the Philippines. It was democratizing. But it also led to the influx of fake news, which has since made the country Patient Zero for what was to become the new playbook for political propaganda. In my previous role for another media company I led efforts with Google Newslab and the Facebook Journalism Project to help combat fake news — the very fake news that these tech companies helped proliferate. On one end you couldn’t blame them for trying. On another, it felt like lip service. Since that time, Facebook has moved away from these efforts, and Google has pivoted to the Google News Initiative, which is pretty much the same set of tools such as reverse image search and calls for funding. But how do you reverse image search an AI generated photo? And in the hands of millions of people, would it even matter when the voice of truth is drowned by millions of AI generated photos and videos?

I have to be clear — OPPO is not to be blamed. It’s the market after all, and they are far from the only ones launching their own generative AI tools. I hope I am terribly mistaken. For now it seems that these AI tools do have that “AI look” that may seem obvious to a lot of folks. Features like AI eraser are also now going to be standard with most devices as well, not just OPPO.

I hope that this is just a rambling of a senior tech journalist in a changing world, and that the change can do more good than harm. But I have my doubts. And I guess that is why my profession still exists.