Like Tensor for humans: Apple reportedly working on AI cores

Apple is already driving mobile silicon in a way few if any other companies have been able to keep up with. Now, a new report claims Apple will be using its considerable chipset chops to accelerate artificial intelligence as well.

Mark Gurman, writing for Bloomberg:

Apple is working on a processor devoted specifically to AI-related tasks, according to a person familiar with the matter. The chip, known internally as the Apple Neural Engine, would improve the way the company's devices handle tasks that would otherwise require human intelligence -- such as facial recognition and speech recognition.

If true, this should surprise no one. Arguably, Apple's biggest advantage in computing right now is that the company custom crafts the complete stack, from atom to bit to pixel. That includes an ever-increasing amount of custom silicon.

A few years ago, Apple offloaded motion tracking from its main A-series system-on-a-chip to an M-series sensor fusion hub. A few years later, it added onboard natural language parsing to the M-series to enable "Hey, Siri!" in as power-efficient a way as possible.

The latest A-series, A10 Fusion, combines two high-efficiency cores with two high-performance cores to try to eek out as much battery life as possible while pushing pixels and bits as fast as possible.

Anything that makes sense to offload to increase efficiency and performance, you can bet Apple is working on offloading. Including and especially AI, since it's such a hot topic these days.

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.

This part reads oddly to me. Nothing against Mark, but it's a particularly bad narrative pervasive across U.S. media.

Google Home is a single product. Echo is a growing line of similar, home-based products. Apple has pushed Siri from iPhone to and through iPad, Apple Watch, Apple TV, Mac, CarPlay, HomeKit, and accessories like AirPods. Apple has also expanded Siri across dozens of languages, including Chinese, Hebrew, and Arabic, as well as dozens of regions.

It's fair to say no other vendor has yet been as aggressive as Apple in deploying virtual assistants across product lines or to customers around the world.

"Two of the areas that Apple is betting its future on require AI," said Gene Munster, former Apple analyst and co-founder of venture capital firm Loup Ventures. "At the core of augmented reality and self-driving cars is artificial intelligence."

This also reads oddly to me. Almost everything Apple does already requires AI. AI is going to be everywhere in computing the same way math is everywhere.

There's nothing unique about special projects like augmented reality or cars. Machine learning, computer vision, and related technologies are already powering everything from battery efficiency to photo tagging, sequential inference to computational photography.

Just because Google made its sound like they invented AI on the I/O 2016 stage, and it's now parroted alongside AR and VR the way mobile/social/local was a decade ago, doesn't mean companies like Apple (and Google) haven't been working on it for years.

What's interesting isn't that the big tech giants are working on it; it's how they will use it to solve real problems in the information and computer space and, in Apple's case, how it will solve those problems while protecting our security and privacy at the same time.

Rene Ritchie
Contributor

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

12 Comments
  • "Google Home is a single product. Echo is growing line of similar, home based products. Apple has pushed Siri from iPhone to and through iPad, Apple Watch, Apple TV, Mac, CarPlay, HomeKit, and accessories like AirPods." ... except that Google's Assistant is available across mobile devices (Android, iOS), within Chrome I believe, not just through the Home product. And Alexa is present and capable on the Echo products as well as through the Alexa app, the Amazon app, the Fire stick, presumably the Fire TV, and so on. It's a valid comparison, correct? And - pardon my ignorance - is Siri present in Airpods independent of the phone?
  • Yeah smh at google home is a single product. Hello !!! google now, assistant, voice recognition is everywhere.
  • The AirPods have a tap for Siri feature. Viticci mentioned he uses them for Siri in his latest podcast. "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." Rene's point is that the media forgets that Siri is in so many places. Apple has been aggressively implementing Siri, but you would never know it by news coverage. He does *not* claim that Google is less aggressive or in fewer places in any way at all.
  • News coverage is about how Siri sucks, no one complains that's not in many places. They complain because it's bad compared to competition.
  • "This part reads oddly to me. Nothing against Mark, but it's a particularly bad narrative pervasive across U.S. media." Nothing against Rene, but it's just pro apple narrative from you, Gruber and few others on everything Apple does. At least Mark is honest even though he loves Apple products. Pretty much everyone is right Siri lacks and is just dumb compared to google. And, yeah Google does it many languages as well if that's your defense for whatever little Siri can do. On the positive side, I'm excited to see what Apple comes up and see how it can compete with Google given it has no other option other than pushing privacy story and how it can do everything on device. They would love to be like google but given the lack of their ability we have to see how well they can do this AI stuff on device and keeping privacy in mind. "Just because Google made its sound like they invented AI on the I/O 2016 stage, and it's now parroted alongside AR and VR the way mobile/social/local was a decade ago, doesn't mean companies like Apple (and Google) haven't been working on it for years." Really? You are so hurt on this? Even on MacBreak weekly you brought this up. This is what Apple does for pretty much everything in their keynote. Every feature they talk as if they invented it even though it's on competitor's device for years.
  • They all try to make it sound like they invented it. Heck, people have forgotten there were smart phones before 2007. There were, but far fewer people had them. As for the narrative, I am seeing a lot of criticism on the media praising the Echo and viewing the Apple Watch as a flop. Yet I've read on multiple places that the watch sells more in volume and for a profit while the Echo is sold for a loss and fewer are sold. Numbers are not released, so I'm going to dig for the articles (but I believe Above Avalon was one of them). What is interesting is the way the Echo has caught the attention of the media. It's different and it is functional. There is plenty to write about since it is so open (too open for my tastes). The hardware is getting refreshed at a good pace too. As for Siri, yep, it needs work. Actually, it needs a way for me to tell it that, no, it did not understand me. That's really all I want… that and to have more fluid conversations.
  • Really? The Echo losing money? That seems strange to me. I mean, after all, it's useless if you have no internet. It cannot do anything unless it has access to it. No timers, alarms, nada. At least that's what they said in the reviews.
  • How Apple approaches the digital assistant is predicated on these factors: Security/Privacy, Ubiquity, and Extensibility. Security/Privacy---Data storage and manipulation is best served on the local device when it can be and only stored and manipulated on the cloud if it can be done so at the deepest level. For a photo to be synced to and manipulated in the iCloud and for Apple to do so having excluded their ability to hold any encryption key protecting it is a very, very, very tall order. There is a reason they hired Jonathan Zdziarski. The call to crop and apply a filter needs to happen on all devices AND the cloud without compromising privacy. Keeping customer data encrypted at these levels on their servers is not in Google's best interest or even their wheelhouse. Google doesn't talk the security game. Therefor they keep themselves open to running fast and loose with your data. That means ample blood in the water for any number of bad players to go after. The trope of Google User Data Anonymization is prime for failure. Not a matter of "if" but "when". The continued treatment of end user devices as dumb terminals and the shoving of ever more data and processing power to the cloud leads to laziness on the OEM's part. We've seen this battle before. One can only assume that Samsung is not simply glomming Viv to things but actually following through on the promise of Android as a true open source solution. Don't Hold Your Breathe. Reports that Apple is creating custom silicon for managing digital dossiers should not surprise anyone. Nor should the fact that they are telling Qualcomm to take a hike now be a surprise. That they added Intel as a supplier for cellular modems is quite telling - they are going to make their own modems too.
  • Ubiquity---Though it might seem obvious to most the scale of this can not be understated. The "Internet of Things" is akin to the "World Wide Web" in my mind. Tremendous promise turns into absolute morass of pain. To put some perspective to something that was mentioned in an earlier post regarding the Amazon Echo line: There is plenty of talk about how wonderful Tesla is doing. Yet the Apple Watch has generated more unit sales then Echo and more revenue then Tesla. Apple Watch is primed to leap forward this fall. This is not to belabor those companies' successes but to illustrate that the reach of Apple products and there for Siri (or whatever the overall solution is deemed to be called) exemplifies how far it can go. Apple Watch can be viewed as an accessory to iPhone. And what of any Siri Speaker (hate that name) product. What of a newer wifi system that integrates and amplifies Siri and HomeKit. What of CarPlay and other integrated auto systems. Project Titan is aptly named but probably a **** lot closer than most think to producing fruit. Extensibility---Echo has both language support and security working against it. Amazon is predominately US company. However one must appreciate that it is Walmart and their ilk that Amazon is truly competing against. Don't undersell that. Google's bread and butter on the other hand is in advertising. And they will ride that pony straight in to the ground. Their forte is on the server. Their greatest success found almost exclusively within a web browser. Again...Advertising and the World Wide Web! When combined, the most hated concept in existence. They will have a difficult time assailing that wall. I foresee a lot of WTF results that is far worse the bane of Siri now. And where might Apple fit in this? Yes, yes, yes! Fluid conversation is nice but natural language is better suited. In fact it is absolutely imperative. And never mind about just simple language support. What about muddled accents and mixed languages - Spanglish anyone? Recognize the extent third party support for Siri introduces a set of complexities far, far, far beyond the chicken scratch/Graffiti approach of Google Assistant and Alexa, and is dependant on Apple growing domains instead of leaving businesses to grab at the lowest hanging fruit. Make no mistake it is not about competing against Android/Amazon/Google/Advertising/BuynLarge. It's about creating a platform for communication and commerce that doesn't bank on the gullibility of the end user. It's all my data; what I buy, who I buy it from, what I do with it? Whose to say that a viable solution positively requires that I give up that control. Just remember....the road less travelled. (All Over The Place, I Know!)
  • That last sentence says it all! Yes indeed, security and privacy are the hole point of making an AI chip in the phone, so that requests are analyzed and decisions are taken locally, and not from a distant server, and this will hopefully makes the response time much faster.
  • Google and Amazon are into AI for the purpose and goal of increased efficiency in advertising and selling of your data. The promoted benefits to you personnally are a side effect and not the goal. However, Apple really needs to step up. Siri has improved but has a long way to go. Apple doesn't have the cloud infrastructure setup to process AI so it needs to do it not the device. I wonder if that data can transferred to a new device.
  • "I wonder if that data can transferred to a new device."? That's indeed a very good question, one Apple should take into consideration, since all that the AI chip will have learned will need to be backup to iCloud too ---- sorry I should have replied to delta4s instead