Apple's new mobile AI chip could create a new level of intelligence

Apple's new mobile AI chip could create a new level of intelligence
Neural networks driving machine learning. Credit: Shutterstock

Apple is reportedly working on a chip called the Apple Neural Engine, which would be dedicated to carrying out artificial intelligence (AI) processing on its mobile devices.

The addition of this type of capability would catalyse the use of AI on . Although it is already being used extensively to power digital assistants like Siri and Google Assistant, these technologies rely on computer servers to process data sent to them rather than the processing happening on the mobile device itself.

Augmented reality and digital assistants are not the only applications of AI that will become important on mobile devices. Once the capability is made available to all , it will bring new types of capabilities to mobile devices.

Health applications, for example, will be able to tell when body readings from sensors on the phone or associated wearable devices are abnormal and need acting on. But the uses are potentially limitless and will bring about a new phase in how we rely on applications and our mobile devices in everyday life. And they will work, even when the device is not connected to the internet.

Strictly speaking, a specific processor is not an essential requirement for using AI on a . Chip-maker Qualcomm for example has provided a software-based approach, called the Snapdragon Neural Processing Engine, to allow developers using their chips to incorporate AI into their . An example of this is a car that monitors the driver using a camera and warns when they are using their smartphone or driving erratically.

Specific AI hardware however greatly speeds up the process called "machine learning" and allows for more sophisticated types of AI to be used. Google's AI hardware, called the Tensor Processing Unit, is 15 to 30 times faster than the fastest computer processors (CPUs) and graphic processors (GPUs) that power computers today. These TPUs were what gave Google's DeepMind its ability to beat the world champions of the Chinese game of Go. These TPUs also have vastly improved Google's automated language translation software, Google Translate.

The inclusion of AI in mobile software is going to massively increase the potential usefulness of that software and through that, how much we come to depend on the mobile phone. Our state of health, for example, is really about how we are doing relative to how we normally feel. Changes in behaviour can signal changes in mental health, including conditions like dementia and Parkinson's. They can also be precursors of illnesses such as diabetes as well as respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. Our phones could monitor patterns of activity and even how we walk. This ability would be based on the software learning our normal patterns and once having detected a change, decide what to do about it.

The would be part of a self-directed ecosystem of intelligent and autonomous machines, including cars. Not only is the driving of autonomous cars completely dependent on AI to function, it is likely that people will eventually share the use of these cars when needed, rather than owning one themselves. AI will again be essential for managing how this sharing functions to manage the most efficient distribution of cars, directing which cars need to pick up which clients. To do this, the scheduling AI service will need to liaise with AI software on everyone's phones to determine where and when they will be at a given location and where they need to get to.

AI on a mobile device will also increasingly be used to keep the device protected, checking if applications and communications are secure or likely to be a threat. This technology is already being implemented in smart home appliances, but as software. The addition of special AI chips will allow them to be much faster and to do more. Researchers are also looking at analysing the way we move as a means of uniquely identifying the wearer of a .

AI will essentially be able to fill in and apply the understanding and knowledge that not everyone possesses. Even if they do, remembering to do something, even when it is in your own best interest, is sometimes hard.

There is a counter argument to the benefits of increasing the intelligence of mobile devices however. This is the fear that as we come to rely on devices to do things, we will lose the ability to maintain that skill and that this will eventually impact on a person's overall cognitive ability, or at least on their ability to operate without the AI.

The successful outcome of having an AI assisting depends on the user following its advice, and this is something that people may not be that good at doing.

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User comments

May 30, 2017
These so called intelligence services require ever more intrusive collection of data and integration with multiple apps. It is already very difficult to turn off, for example, GPS monitoring without losing functionality in apps which do not need to know where you are. I had to stop using the Gmail app for that reason.

A few weeks ago, while driving to work, I instructed my phone to call my work number (hands free). Google decided that instead of looking up the number in my contacts, it would do an internet search and called a number in another state. Simple programs which work well are being rapidly replaced with complex programs which fail frequently.

May 30, 2017
Well, you are referencing an Android Phone, which I find to be a mess of cludged together software running on the lowest cost hardware. Aren't you glad that Apple is working on this AI Chip and not Google? Apple knows how to create hardware and software that work in harmony, and they do a great job of making things intuitive and helpful in most cases.
I am glad that this AI chip is coming along because I find that having to have mobile data connection just to use Voice-to-text, is a severe limitation. We cant rely on cloud to do everything, or else we will just be carrying around Dumb terminals which are not as capable as they could be without cloud based services.

May 30, 2017

At least Android allows you to turn off access to specific data from apps. Apple takes the position that Apple knows best and you might as well like it.

I do like the concept of local abilities. Often there is no network available. I keep Here (we go) on my phone because it can provide turn by turn directions when there is no network connection.

May 30, 2017
Dogbert looks at his phone the same way he looks at all science. He finds one minor fault and declares the whole thing worthless.

You must be a very old dog dog.

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