Huawei unveils AI Ascend chips

Huawei's push into artificial intelligence technology has seen it unveil two chips, a neural networks compute architecture, a development toolkit, and a cloud training framework across AI.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

Huawei has unveiled its artificial intelligence (AI) strategy and full-stack portfolio, including a series of chips, cloud services, and products.

Announced at Huawei Connect 2018 in Shanghai by rotating chair Eric Xu, Huawei's Ascend AI chip series includes the Ascend 910 and Ascend 310, with the company also unveiling the Compute Architecture for Neural Networks (CANN), a chip operators library and automated operators development toolkit, and MindSpore, a device, edge, and cloud training and inference framework.

The latter includes "full-pipeline services (ModelArts), hierarchical APIs, and pre-integrated solutions", Huawei said, with the Chinese networking giant to later expand its AI stack to include an AI acceleration card, AI server, AI appliance, and other AI products.

"Huawei's AI strategy is to invest in basic research and talent development, build a full-stack, all-scenario AI portfolio, and foster an open global ecosystem," Xu said during his Huawei Connect keynote.

"In the telecom sector, we will adopt SoftCom AI to make network O&M more efficient. In the consumer market, HiAI will bring true intelligence to our consumer devices.

"Our Huawei EI public cloud services and FusionMind private cloud solutions will provide abundant and affordable computing power for all organisations -- especially businesses and governments -- and help them use AI."

According to Huawei, 10 changes across technology are pushing its AI development and strategy: faster model training; affordable and better computing power; AI deployment and user privacy; new algorithms; AI automation; practical application; real-time, closed-loop systems; "multi-tech synergy"; platform support; and "talent availability".

Huawei said its AI research will focus on natural language processing, computer vision, decision/interference, and machine learning. It is also planning to apply AI to its own operations across "routine business activities", as well as offering deployments to businesses across public and private cloud, edge computing, industrial Internet of Things (IoT) devices, and consumer devices.

"Huawei is ready to work with all stakeholders to turn AI into a practical reality, making it inclusive and available for every person, every home, and every organisation," the company said.

Huawei also announced a smart cities AI partnership with Tianjin Binhai New Area, as well as a smart campus solution and joint innovation laboratories alongside Chinese real estate developer Vanke.

"The Tianjin Economic-Technological Development Area (TEDA) designed and developed an AI-based '1 + 4 + N' smart city solution, which refers to one centre, four platforms, and additional innovative applications," Huawei said.

The centre is Huawei's "city brain" Intelligent Operations Centre (IOC), which aggregates and processes data collected from the government, businesses, and citizens through IoT applications and internet access.

The four AI platforms are then Resident Voices, which has voice recognition for all citizens of Tianjin; Sensing the City, which uses image recognition across people, places, vehicles, and things "for the purpose of fostering harmony for all"; Resident Care, which involves deep learning and correlation for personalised services for citizens; and Enterprise Services, which ensures services availability match their need by applying "multi-dimensional and correlation analysis to clarify the internal relationships of industries in the TEDA district".

In addition to its AI solutions and strategy, the tech giant also used Huawei Connect to outline its FusionStorage 8.0 multi-cloud solution; its CloudFabric network solution; and its Atlas200 "intelligent acceleration module" which it said can conduct real-time analysis of HD videos and smart small cells.

Huawei's AI push saw it sign a strategic agreement with Chinese search engine giant Baidu in December last year to build an open mobile AI ecosystem that covers platforms, technology, internet services, and content ecosystems.

The open ecosystem was built using Huawei's HiAI platform and neural network processing unit (NPU), and Baidu's PaddlePaddle deep-learning framework and Baidu Brain, which contains Baidu's AI services and assets. It will allow AI developers to make use of the technology.

Huawei head of Consumer Software Engineering and director of Intelligence Engineering Felix Zhang had last year said the addition of AI capabilities to smartphones will bring the next shift in technology.

Huawei had unveiled its Kirin 970 chipset with built-in AI in September 2017, at the time calling it the "future of smartphones". Its mobile AI is made up of a combination of on-device AI and cloud AI.

"Huawei is committed to developing smart devices into intelligent devices by building end-to-end capabilities that support coordinated development of chips, devices, and the cloud," Huawei Consumer Business Group CEO Richard Yu said at the time.

"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."

In February this year, Huawei then used the AI capabilities of its Mate 10 Pro to drive an autonomous car.

Under its RoadReader project, Huawei said it has used the smartphone to conduct intelligent object recognition to distinguish between thousands of different objects including dogs, cats, balls, and bicycles and "learn to take the most appropriate course of action".

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