Huawei unveils two advanced AI chips as part of its ‘big bet’ on artificial intelligence technology

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 10 October, 2018, 12:49pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 10 October, 2018, 10:38pm

Huawei Technologies, the world’s largest telecom equipment vendor, has unveiled two artificial intelligence microchips that it says will help extend the application of AI to “all walks of life”.

The Ascend 910 offers the “greatest computing density in a single chip”, Huawei’s rotating chairman Eric Xu Zhijun said during the Huawei Connect 2018 conference in Shanghai on Wednesday.

The companion chip, the Ascend 310, supports “pervasive intelligence for a fully connected, intelligent world”, a key part of the company’s “all scenarios” AI strategy, according to Xu.

The 310 chip is available now while the 910 will released in the second quarter of next year.

Huawei is betting big on AI development which it believes will deliver enormous economic benefits to the company and society in general, with AI-driven automation expected to gradually replace manpower in a large number of jobs and industries.

Amid rising trade tensions with the US, Chinese vice-premier Liu He said last month the country was developing AI in an “open environment” and encouraged companies across the world to engage in intensive collaboration at the corporate and research institute level.

Xu said Huawei’s “full stack” strategy means it can provide AI application developers with “unparalleled computing power and a strong application development platform.”

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The Ascend 910 is able to solve problems “no matter how complicated they are”, while the Ascend 310 will “enhance the application of AI technology in all walks of life”, Xu said.

Huawei’s AI device strategy announced on Wednesday follows last year’s Huawei Cloud EI, an AI service platform for enterprises and governments, and HiAI, an AI engine for smart devices unveiled in April this year.

The business potential behind AI technology is expected to be huge, with Huawei forecasting more than 40 billion personal smart devices globally, 90 per cent of which will use a smart digital assistant, by 2025. By that time 86 per cent of companies across all industries will be deploying big data or related technologies to solve their problems.

However, the overall adoption of AI technology remains low as only 4 per cent of global enterprises have utilised AI-backed technology to boost their efficiency or solve problems, according to Xu, who added that for every 100 AI jobs open there is only 1 qualified person available.

On Tuesday Huang Weiwei, a senior management consultant at Huawei, said the company will continue to invest heavily in AI manpower, despite the added cost and pressure on the company’s bottom line.

Huawei, China’s largest smartphone vendor, is the only local company that has been able to design its own chips for mass production in mobile handsets.

On August 31, it unveiled the Kirin 980 smartphone chip designed to double the processing power for AI applications. The 7-nanometre fabrication process packs 6.9 billion transistors onto the chip, about 1.6 times more than in the Kirin 970 chip launched last year, the company said.