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Apple's AI Just Took a Huge Leap Forward

By Danny Vena - Updated Sep 19, 2017 at 6:39PM

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Apple has been ridiculed for the stagnation of its artificial intelligence offerings compared to other technology giants, but the AI on its latest iPhone just vaulted the competition.

With all the excitement surrounding Apple Inc.'s (AAPL 0.00%) latest iPhone release and the finally answered questions regarding  prices, the naming convention, the number of models, and of course, the latest capabilities, one feature seems to have flown under the radar. While most pundits focused on the $1,000 price tag of the iPhone X,  the Face ID technology, and the real-life implications of augmented reality (AR), these phones' stunning new artificial intelligence (AI) aptitude has been largely overlooked.

Apple's new AI lives directly on the iPhone courtesy of the A11 Bionic chip: Apple's new "neural engine," with a pair of processing cores dedicated specifically to running the AI.

iPhone Ten laying on its side.

The iPhone X has onboard AI that leaps the competition. Image source: Apple, Inc.

Privacy protection at odds with AI development

Apple is a relatively privacy-conscious company, and some say that has caused it to lag its big-tech brethren in developing a more personalized AI that resides less on the cloud and is closer to the consumer -- or "at the edge."

Deep learning, a subdiscipline of AI, typically involves gathering massive amounts of data and aggregating it in the cloud in order to gain insight, but this is at odds with Apple's rigid stand on data protection. The company uses such things as end-to-end encryption in its FaceTime and iMessage apps and doesn't maintain user profiles, in keeping with its staunch views on consumer data protection. This stance, while laudable, has made it more difficult for the company to gather the data necessary to advance its AI agenda -- until now.

We can rebuild him...

All the newest iPhones will feature Apple's A11 Bionic chip with a neural engine, a pair of cores that are dedicated specifically to processing AI. The A11 is capable of performing "600 billion operations per second for real-time processing." Apple calls it "the most powerful and smartest chip ever in a smartphone." This takes the deep learning neural network out of the cloud and puts it in the phone. The company also said that it has an integrated Apple-designed GPU that delivers graphics 30% more quickly than previous models. It incorporates a "six-core CPU design" and a performance controller that "can harness all six cores simultaneously," making it better, stronger, and faster. 

Woman looking at an iPhone 10 standing on a beach.

Face ID uses AI to power its facial recognition. Image source: Apple, Inc.

The capability of the local AI processor is integrated across a number of the phone's features. It powers Face ID, the facial recognition software, by projecting 33,000 infrared dots to create a mathematical model of your face that it recognizes to unlock your iPhone. Its depth-sensing technology works even in the dark and adapts to gradual changes in your appearance over time while preventing spoofing -- the use of photos or masks to access the device. The secure enclave that stores the information provides much greater protection, with only a one-in-a-million chance of being hacked.

The neural engine is also integrated into camera sensors, enabling better photos and greater stop-action, and is at the heart of the iPhone's augmented reality capability. It may also be tied into Apple's future healthcare aspirations, providing the ability to track and analyze data collected by health-related apps.

Advances in AI, but focused on privacy

AI technology has been present in the iPhone for some time, powering such things as Siri's voice recognition, but the addition of the neural engine and the A11 Bionic chip take that to a whole new level. While Apple's AI appeared to have fallen behind that of its big tech competitors, the company was busy creating a way to use the technology without infringing on users' privacy, in keeping with its oft-stated policy. The latest addition to its flagship iPhone lineup proves that the company isn't as far behind as many had believed.


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