Huawei’s IFA keynote session was one perhaps many in the industry weren’t expecting, it actually said something interesting.

Jamie Davies

September 4, 2017

3 Min Read
Huawei claims AI breakthrough, but will anyone care?

Huawei’s IFA keynote session was one perhaps many in the industry weren’t expecting, it actually said something interesting.

Most tradeshow presentations of this nature do not offer any revolutionary insight into the company or the future. They are traditionally full of clichés, PR soundbites and bold statements used to appease investors. But on the weekend, Huawei announced the launch of the Kirin 970 SoC, what it claims contains the first-ever Neural Processing Unit (NPU) for smartphones.

“As we look to the future of smartphones, we’re at the threshold of an exciting new era,” said Richard Yu, CEO of Huawei’s Consumer Business Group.

“Mobile AI = On-Device AI + Cloud AI. 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.

“The ultimate goal is to provide a significantly better user experience. The Kirin 970 is the first in a series of new advances that will bring powerful AI features to our devices and take them beyond the competition.”

It’s not a complicated idea. To improve the performance of artificial intelligence applications on smartphones, move some of the intelligence onto the smartphones themselves. The cloud is an excellent platform for many AI experiences, but there is the risk of latency, stability, and privacy; keeping it local addresses some of these concerns.

As they say, the proof is in the pudding, should this NPU technology perform as Huawei hopes it would certainly give a leg-up in terms of AI performance on devices. Considering the anticipated role AI in our daily lives moving forward, it is certainly a good sign for a smartphone manufacturing which has been chomping up market share, chasing down Samsung and Apple at the top of the global leader board.

Another factor to consider is whether people are actually bothered. For the tech geeks out there, this will be a wonderful bit of news, but will the general public actually care? How many people actually use their virtual assistant right? We’re not too sure of the official numbers, but we would bet it is a smallish percentage.

Huawei has claimed the chip is 20-times faster than traditional processors on the market, supporting real-time image recognition, voice interaction, and intelligent photography. We haven’t heard any hugely vocal complaints that such features were too laggy at the moment, so maybe Huawei has fixed a problem which isn’t actually there.

When looking at the more complex, intelligence driven applications, this speed might well be needed. But these are not here yet. Mass market penetration is certainly nowhere near.

This is certainly a positive step forward, but the question remains as to whether there will be any relevance in the world of today. Huawei might have fixed tomorrow’s problem before the people of today have actually realized there is one. It’s very considerate of them, but we’re not too sure whether this will help them sell smartphones over the next couple of months.

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