Apple is working on a dedicated AI processor
Several reports in recent months have detailed Apple’s plans to include augmented reality tech in next generation iPhones that are said to tap into a 3D-sensing front camera for depth detection. The technology can reportedly allow merging of depth information together with 2D images from the front camera. Apple has already tested prototypes of iPhones using the dedicated AI chip, but it’s unclear if it will be ready to debut in an iPhone 8 with AR features expected this fall.Apple got an early start in artificial intelligence software with the 2011 introduction of Siri, a tool that lets users operate their smartphones with voice commands. Now the electronics giant is bringing artificial intelligence to chips.
Apple devices currently handle complex artificial intelligence processes with two different chips: the main processor and the graphics chip. The new chip, which may be called the Apple Neural Engine, would be used to offload tasks that require sophisticated algorithms related to facial and speech recognition and augmented reality tasks that rely heavily on computer vision. This chip could improve the device’s overall battery life and potentially improve overall performance of Apple devices.
Augmented Reality and AI are two core pillars of Apple’s future. Both provide avenues into promising new technologies like self-driving cars, more sophisticated digital assistants, and the kind of image recognition that could imbue a smartphone with the ability to understand and contextualize the world.
Engineers at Apple are racing to catch their peers at Amazon and Alphabet in the booming field of artificial intelligence. While Siri gave Apple an early advantage in voice-recognition, competitors have since been more aggressive in deploying AI across their product lines, including Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Home digital assistants.
An AI-enabled processor would help Apple integrate more advanced capabilities into devices, particularly gadgets that run augmented reality, the technology that superimposes graphics and other information onto a person’s view of the world. Apple’s operating systems and software features would integrate with devices that include the chip. For example, Apple has considered offloading facial recognition in the photos application, some parts of speech recognition, and the iPhone’s predictive keyboard to the chip. Apple also plans to offer developer access to the chip so third-party apps can also offload artificial intelligence-related tasks.
The AI chip is designed to make significant improvements to Apple’s hardware over time, and the company plans to eventually integrate the chip into many of its devices.