The invasion of mobile AI chips is nigh

By: Ryan Daws

28, September, 2017

Categories:

Artificial Intelligence - Consumer - Deep Learning - Featured -

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Most flagship smartphones in 2018 will have a dedicated mobile AI chip, and we’re already seeing the industry move in that direction.

AI-based tasks on most smartphones today are typically carried out in the cloud often without the average user even being aware. Google Photos, for example, uses deep learning to artistically crop and edit landscape panorama photos like a human photographer. Photos are categorised automatically, and — as of an update earlier this year — the app will even prompt who you may wish to share the pictures with.

Dedicated AI chips will allow faster processing of various tasks on the hardware itself without, or with less, need for the cloud.

CURRENT MOBILE AI CHIPS

While still in their infancy, we’re starting to see dedicated mobile AI in handsets before we even head into next year.

Huawei is leading the pack with its Kirin 970 chip which features a dedicated NPU (Neural Processing Unit). The company is claiming its NPU is able to perform an image recognition test on 2,000 images per second, 20 times faster than what the competition can do with a CPU alone.

It’s well known in the mobile industry that new technologies often don’t reach mainstream adoption until Apple gets on board. Fortunately, Apple isn’t far behind and will have dedicated AI cores in the iPhone X’s new A11 Bionic chip to power a range of new features including facial recognition and real-time analysis of 4K video for improving video recordings.

Huawei’s marketing team have been poking some fun at Apple’s expense. After the onstage failure of FaceID at the iPhone X’s announcement, Huawei posted an image of a clown with the caption “Let’s face it, facial recognition isn’t for everyone” alongside the hashtag #TheRealAIPhone ahead of the expected announcement of the Mate 10 on October 16th.

We look forward to seeing whether Huawei can prove itself to be better at mobile AI than Apple, or whether Huawei will ultimately end up looking the clown.

FUTURE MOBILE AI CHIPS

Another given in the mobile industry is whatever Apple has, Samsung will either have or won’t be far behind.

Industry sources familiar with Samsung’s chip plans report the company has been carrying out R&D work into mobile AI chips.

“[Samsung] is in the middle of developing several types of chips that will be capable of processing massive data from AI applications on devices, eliminating the need to communicate with cloud servers,” a source from one of Samsung’s partners told The Korea Herald.

Samsung recently overtook Intel as the leading chip maker which makes this news particularly notable. We’re sure to see a dedicated AI chip debut in an upcoming Galaxy smartphone, but we can also expect them in the company’s popular TVs and smart home technology.

“In the next three years or so, smartphones will have designated chips that will improve the processing of AI features by 50 percent from today,” the industry source explained. “A kind of an accelerator can be applied to empower AI devices.”

INVESTOR EXCITEMENT

The potential for AI has excited investors who are putting their cash into chip manufacturers set to gain from this new venture.

Nvidia, who relies on the gaming market, is moving into AI and now provides chipsets for some of the world’s largest companies to power their efforts. The gaming market is often cyclical in nature but AI looks set to provide a healthy stream of revenue over the coming years.

The company’s main source of revenue is still the gaming market with $1.03 billion in sales in the first quarter of its fiscal year — although this was down from its average forecasts of $1.13 billion. However, Nvidia reported more than $400 million in quarterly revenue for its data center business selling chipsets to the many companies increasing their computing power for servers with deep learning technology.

These financial results arrive in tandem with a better-than-expected performance from Nvidia’s segment focusing on AI for self-driving cars and other automotive efforts. Combined, this more than made up for the shortfall in gaming revenue and showed investors how AI will provide a huge boon to Nvidia.

As a result, of any company in S&P 500 Index, Nvidia had the largest stock increase in 2016 and shares have gained 227 percent over the past year.

“AI is the most important technology development of our time, with the greatest potential to help society,” says Nvidia Corp. Chief Executive Jensen Huang. “As the world’s leading cloud providers deploy the world’s best AI platform, with Volta GPUs and Nvidia software, we’ll see amazing breakthroughs in medicine, autonomous transportation, precision manufacturing and much more.”

Companies including Alibaba, Baidu, and Tencent are upgrading their data centers with Nvidia’s Volta-based platforms.

Are you excited about dedicated mobile AI chips? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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