(Image courtesy of Kārlis Dambrāns, Creative Commons).

Huawei Uses Silicon to Ease Artificial Intelligence

Huawei announced its latest smartphone chip, the Kirin 970, which contains a neural processing unit to sort images, translate text, and understand speech. The company said that the custom silicon lets smartphones do artificial intelligence tasks without using the cloud, where such software typically runs.

Many companies are trying to reap the benefits of this embedded artificial intelligence. In smartphones, personal assistants could relay faster insights to users without being connected to the internet and preserving privacy. In sensors, messages sent to the cloud could be condensed, saving battery life and network bandwidth.

With the neural processing unit, Kirin can run image recognition and other artificial intelligence tasks around 25 times faster and 50 times more efficiently than quad-core Arm Cortex A-73 processors. Huawei’s semiconductor unit HiSilicon also equipped the chip with an eight-core CPU and 12-core GPU.

Huawei’s announcement comes amid other attempts to impart artificial intelligence to gadgets. Last month, Intel released a computer vision chip that enables drones to avoid obstacles and recognize gestures. Microsoft has planned a custom chip that could, for example, translate signs in a foreign language viewed through its HoloLens goggles.

Qualcomm, the world’s largest smartphone chip maker, stopped short of selling chips with its own neural processing unit. Instead it released a software tool to cleverly portion out the existing processing power its chips, so that machine learning and augmented reality programs can run vastly more efficiently on smartphones.

Huawei did not mention which smartphones would have the Kirin 970 installed. But the company plans to release its new flagship phone in October. The chip – whose 5.5 billion transistors were manufactured in 10 nanometers – is only part of Huawei’s strategy. It also sells telecommunications equipment and hardware for data centers.

“Huawei is committed to turning smart devices into intelligent devices by building end-to-end capabilities that support coordinated development of chips, devices, and the cloud,” said Richard Yu, chief executive of Huawei’s consumer business, in a statement. “The ultimate goal is to provide a significantly better user experience.”

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