If like me you are an avid reader of all things tech, you will likely be aware of the current buzz surrounding AI processors. Some refer to them as neural networks or machine learning. How will these processors affect us as end-users? Will we even notice the difference?
AI Processors and the online buzz
The answer (you’ll be pleased to hear) is they may dominate smart-tech in the near future. The latest variety of System On Chip technologies coming from both Apple and Huawei are but the first. The initial advantages will be to
- increase battery life and
- provide us with a much-needed increase in app performance.
This means no more waiting on your favourite social media apps, games and productivity tools. Plus, the abilities of Siri, Bixby and more will be even better.
What Can Be Achieved – NPU vs CPU?
To give you an idea of the gains we can expect from Neural AI Processors: A recent study by Huawei suggests their new Kirwin 970 NPU (Neural Processing Unit) will operate on average 20 times faster than a standard mobile CPU. This information comes from the manufacturer who conducted in-house benchmarking tests.
So to answer the title “What do Neural Processors mean to us?” I think Richard Yu, CEO of Huawei, answered this when he said: “The ultimate goal is to provide a significantly better user experience.”
When Will AI Go Mainstream?
It looks like we won’t have to wait long owing to the recent announcement of the iPhone X dubbed “The future of the smartphone.” Sporting a beautiful new A11 Bionic SoC, called so, on account of Apple’s new AI “neural engine.” It is one of but a few devices to pave the way for handsets of the future.
What Do We Know About the A11 Bionic?
In a recent press release by Apple we found out that the A11 offers a six-core design. And it is roughly 70-percent faster than its sibling the A10 (The chip which we have all come to know and love from the iPhone 7). This Neural Processor also delivers an outstanding extra 2 hours of battery life. That’s on top of the already impressive 14 hours offered by the existing iPhone.
Additionally, iPhone X users will benefit from a 30-percent improvement in graphics performance. Enabling smoother gameplay/usability from existing games, apps and more. Plus be able to step into new worlds thanks to immersive AR applications powered by AI, and machine learning routines.
What About Android users?
Fear not, you have not been forsaken
In September of this year, Huawei surpassed Apple to take the title of the world’s second-largest smartphone brand. As such, its success has enabled it to take on both Apple and Samsung with the announcement of the outstanding Huawei Mate 10 Pro. Boasting the powerful Kirin 970 Neural Processing Unit and billing the device as “A real AI Phone.”
More about the Kirin 970
So far we know the AI platform for the Kirin 970 runs on a separate Neural Processing Unit. This unit is designed specifically for running neural networks. In fact, it runs much in the same way an ASIC chip is designed to mine Bitcoin.
In fact, because the 970 has been designed around a specific workload, it can perform up to 50-times more efficiently. Meaning, it outperforms its companion Central processing unit. In tests, the Kirin 970 NPU showed its ability to process 33-images per second. That’s a staggering 20-percent more efficient than the CPU handling the process alone.
Will Huawei Mate Pro 10 Offer Similar Benefits to the iPhone X
According to Huawei you may well see much much more. Huawei has openly stated their AI chipset is far more advanced than their competitors. And to my knowledge, so far this assertion has gone unchallenged. However, both companies and Samsung are pushing towards a machine learning AI experience. One which will monitor user behaviour, predicting when you will perform actions including opening or closing an app. As well as optimise performance to improve battery-life and even clean memory automatically.
Do AI Processors Provide Tangible Benefits, Today?
But physically, apart from some performance enhancements, how does this processor translate into something functional on the new Huawei phone?
Currently the AI helps the camera to take better photos.
And on the Apple X?
So in both cases we get gimmicks and nice to haves.
AI Processors – Predictions Moving Forward.
The truth is it’s hard not to be excited by the promise of extra-intelligent assistants, longer battery life, improved graphics, better photos and face recognition. Plus self-cleaning are all in the long term going to make for a better user experience. It is also clear that AI processors are going to be the focus of the future for many tech giants.
For example, Microsoft is shifting focus to AI and AR. While smartphone powerhouse Samsung is opening a Canadian facility for the sole purpose of AI R&D.
What’s also clear is users are on board with these changes. Apple’s iPhone X sold out within minutes of it being made available for pre-order. And the Huawei Mate 10 Pro stands head-and-shoulders above the competition in GSM Arena’s “Which Mate 10 is right for you ?” poll.
But what real advantages might come out of AI chips in future?
Here are some possibilities:
- Apps that will determine if someone is lying. (Imagine pointing the camera at your TV to check if your favorite politician is spinning a yarn)
- Video editors where you can guide the editing process with a couple of suggestions.
- Health diagnosis apps (think tricorders) that study you and can help to pinpoint health problems.
- Intelligent language translation apps
To conclude, while we haven’t reached Skynet levels of sentience yet. AI Processors promise an exciting leap forward in mobile technology. Which leads me to predict, the following about the future. Once the public has experienced what AI processors can offer, any smartphone hitting the market without one, will be rejected.