Qualcomm’s Chris Patrick talks about the future of generative AI and changing consumer preferences

Magic Eraser for photographs, generative wallpapers based on keywords, and circle something to automatically look it up on Google are some of the many on-device AI experiences consumers have experienced on handsets in the last couple of years. All the experiences mentioned here are driven by smartphones that most likely run on the Qualcomm Snapdragon processor. As the SVP and GM, Mobile Handset, Qualcomm Technologies, Chris Patrick and his team have been at the helm of this shift. As the engineering lead for the mobile business unit, Chris spends his workday at Qualcomm focusing on the right technologies to invest in. Chris also spends a lot of time with handset manufacturers to know what their current challenges are and what their vision for the future is.

In an exclusive interview with businessline during MWC 2024, Chris discussed generative AI on smartphones, changing consumer preferences, and privacy and security for the common consumer in the future.

Some new AI tech is emerging on devices, such as Magic Eraser or AI, helping us write emails and translate SMSes. How long have these features been in the pipeline?

Things move slowly and then very quickly in tech. We didn’t call it AI when we started working on it a decade ago. Last year at MWC we demoed a very small side project: We built this billion-parameter model to do Stable Diffusion, which could, for example, generate an image of a cat riding a motorcycle. That caught fire. The industry got a huge reaction, and our partners asked if they could integrate that into their devices.

What are your favourite on-device gen AI features to use right now?

The text and image features are fun! The feature we don’t have today, but I’m looking forward to, is having an AI assistant that processes your voice and decides your exact intent based on the command you give it.

Can we have an assistant who pays attention to your texts, emails, and calendar and who can react more intuitively? For example, it would know when I’m arriving at my destination and book a car for me just in time. 

What will generative AI will look like in the next 5-10 years?

I think my crystal ball is as cloudy as everybody else. It takes all of us to think and imagine this stuff. At Qualcomm, our philosophy is to be a horizontal enabler. We try to enable every possible handset vendor to make incredible handsets. So, our goal is not to prescribe what the future should look like, but to enable it.

What are some of the changes you see in consumer preferences?

We do see consumers looking for more premium experiences in some regions, for example, in India… People are looking for more out of their devices. Something we’re always passionate about is mobile gaming, and there is particularly increasing interest in mobile gaming. So, we want to meet that demand. We see consumers bifurcating, where many people are moving towards the premium segment, and there’s still very healthy volume in the lower tiers.

Is Qualcomm planning to bring powerful processors at a low price range, especially in the Indian market?

Yeah, absolutely. You know the mobile handset market is over a billion units per year, so the premium segment is fantastic, and that’s where we put a lot of our mindshare. But my team spends as much time and energy on things below premium as well. So one of the big initiatives we are launching is the Gigabit 5G phone for 99 dollars. The concept is to get 5G connectivity even to entry-tier phones.

You have the new budget smartphone and new-gen AI experiences across smartphones, automotive, and IoT. How much of that is driven by the R&D happening back in India?

A huge percentage. For the new 99-dollar price point device, virtually all technology and product work is done in India. More than half of the R&D that goes into the mobile platform is also done in India.

What’s Qualcomm doing to make the gen-AI experience safe and secure for the common user?

It is a complicated question. There’s a lot of debate about this already in the photography community, with increasingly generative images and videos being used. One of the things we’re doing is working with a certification company called Truepic, which shows you whether the image has been edited or not. People want to do fun things with their photos. Like, I might want a picture of me on the moon, but you want to be able to tell the difference as a viewer.

Secondly, having on-device AI is helpful. So, you can be very prescriptive about what information can ever leave the device; that’s one way to manage privacy; you’re going to have the right partner building that AI assistant, someone you trust, and you have to be very explicit in stating what information can be shared with that assistant.

Published on March 14, 2024

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