What's Up With the Apple Neural Engine?

Apple's artificial intelligence chip finally has a name.

Getty Images / Rob Stothard

Apple has really been amping up its research and investment in artificial intelligence recently, and a leaked story on the company’s under-development A.I. chip, known internally as the Apple Neural Engine, could find all Apple devices using it very soon.

On Friday, Bloomberg published a report that revealed details about the Apple Neural Engine, which will be a dedicated A.I. chip, thus freeing up other processors in your iPhone or iPad.

An anonymous source disclosed that the Neural Engine is intended to make improvements to Apple hardware, although we still don’t know when.

We do know that the Neural Engine will give the company’s products the ability to integrate a lot of advanced capabilities, particularly in the arena of Apple’s self-driving car technology, augmented reality, and accomplishing other kinds of tasks that generally would require human intelligence.

Your Battery Won’t Die as Quickly

Currently, Apple devices’ A.I. capabilities are managed by the graphics chip and the main processor. With the addition of the Neural Engine, artificial intelligence processing would all be handled on its own chip. Speech recognition and facial recognition in the photos app could now be the responsibility of the Neural Engine, for example. The big win here is that this will help improve battery life, as the other device chips won’t have to do as much heavy lifting.

Apple also intends to offer developers access to the Neural Engine so that third-party apps can take advantage of any of Apple’s new A.I. capabilities.

Reddit commenters were hypothesizing that the Neural Engine could be a bonus for phone users interested in keeping their data private as well. As Reddit user “gwern” put it, the Neural Engine chip could be better than using a cloud service because it would alleviate latency and data consumption, which both suck energy. An A.I. chip also moves Apple toward “differential privacy,” where your data doesn’t have to be stored in the cloud.

There are a few A.I. chips already available on the market; Google has one called the Tensor Processing Unit, which they unveiled in 2016. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon mobile chips also possess a module for artificial intelligence capabilities.

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