Artificial Intelligence Makes the Phone a Personal Assistant

ARTIFICIAL intelligence is a longstanding science fiction staple that is coming into its own. Google, Facebook, Apple and others are all developing A.I. tools. You can try out some apps today that demonstrate fledgling forms of the technology by smartly, swiftly and automatically doing tasks that would otherwise take lots of effort.

The Roll, for instance, is a new intelligent app that can help organize the thousands of photos that you take with your phone. The app scans a photo library, analyzing each image and trying to spot which ones are similar. It then groups pictures together so copies can be deleted.

The app also assigns a score to each image as a measure of its quality. The artificial intelligence that does this is quite clever: A professionally taken portrait of me scored nearly 90 percent in the app, but a snapshot I had just taken of my cat, paying little heed to lighting and composition, got 20 percent. The software is not flawless — a professional fashion image that I shot in a studio scored 50 percent — but it does give a sense of which photos are better or worse, which is handy for knowing what to share online.

Best of all, The Roll recognizes what your images are about. The app automatically tags pictures with options like fashion, beauty and animals. The result is a neatly compiled photo archive that can be browsed by tapping on a tagged collection of images in the app or by searching for a keyword. The Roll is free on iOS.

EasilyDo offers similar A.I.-based organization and tries to do some of the jobs a real-life personal assistant would do. It works by connecting directly to email accounts, such as Gmail and Exchange, and to other services and apps like Facebook, Evernote and LinkedIn.


The EasilyDo app can scan your emails and social networks and set up alerts for you.

EasilyDo collects information from those sources so it can send an alert when you need to set off for a meeting scheduled in your calendar. It can also get status updates on flights or track packages, create calendar events based on business emails and tidy up your contacts list.

Many features take some time to learn, but it is well designed and has made my online life a little less stressful.

EasilyDo is available on iOS and Android. Though most of its features are free, access to the full range (like one feature that connects to Salesforce to log professional sales information) starts at around $5 a month.

EasilyDo Inc. also has a new free email app that applies to your inboxes some of the same smart automation ideas used in its digital assistant. It offers a unified inbox for different accounts, one-tap unsubscribing from mailing lists and automatic sorting of mail into different folder types, like travel or other categories. The app is available only for iOS devices.

24Me is a personal digital assistant that, much like EasilyDo, connects to different online accounts and manages your affairs. It is styled more like a standard to-do list app or calendar app, which may suit those who like to organize their days as a timeline.


The app 24Me is a personal digital assistant that is styled like a to-do list or calendar.

The app is not quite as automated as EasilyDo, so you may have to work with it a little more throughout the day. Also, the interface is busier and fussier. It is free on iOSand Android.

Don’t forget Google Now, free and available on Androidand via the Google app on iOS.

The app mainly sits in the background, but often surprises you with an alert that is really useful — for example, a warning of traffic on the way to your next meeting. Google Now can also help find nearby attractions and manage restaurant reservations, and you can speak to it in natural language to do searches.

You do have to deliberately interact with Google Now to make the most of it; on iOS this involves the extra step of starting up the Google app.

One of the best-known intelligent apps is Apple’s Siri, which I have found is becoming cleverer all the time. I use Siri daily to begin phone calls, send text messages and set timers, reminders and alarms. The app can now answer sophisticated questions about science, or help with navigation. Now that Siri is instantly accessible on the latest iPhones by speaking “Hey Siri,” it is even more useful.

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UsTwo’s Face Maker app can help personalize the look of an Android Wear smartwatch. Other face design apps can be used to customize the information the watch screen displays, but Face Maker is all about giving the watch a personal look, with thousands of options for color and markers. The app is free.

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