Huawei is currently working on a new AI voice assistant for release outside of its home region, according to statements made by Huawei Consumer BG CEO Richard Yu during a recent interview with CNBC. The executive pointed out that although the company has been and will continue utilizing Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant, for the time being, the reason behind that is that its own international AI simply isn’t ready yet. In fact, it appears as though the company may intend to continue working with those would-be competitors regardless, once its AI launches. For now, Mr. Richard Yu has declined to share any further details such as regional availability and languages that might be available in or even what it may be called.
Background: News that the company may be working on its own Assistant and Alexa alternative isn’t necessarily surprising, given the overarching goals that the company set for artificial intelligence as recently as mid-October. In short, the company is looking to center its focus around concepts it refers to as “ubiquitous connectivity” and “pervasive intelligence.” Those are built around IoT solutions tied in with deep learning and the build-out of a more completely connected world in general. Of course, that encompasses big data implementations but the data itself would stem from all manner of hardware, including that found in cameras, connected or autonomous vehicles, more traditional wireless technologies, city infrastructure, and more. Beyond that, it hopes to bring together a consortium of global leaders in the field under an AI forum named after the Da Vinci architecture used in its Ascend 910 and Ascend 310 data center chips.
However, even prior to those ambitions beginning to publicly take shape, the company has repeatedly experimented with and released products built on the foundations of AI. At this year’s IFA Berlin 2018 event, for example, the company introduced the world to its own smart speaker and wireless router – ironically dubbed the AI Cube in spite of its cylindrical shape. That device utilizes Amazon Alexa since that has dominated the connected smartphone industry for some time now but uses the same Xiaoyi voice assistant seen in Huawei’s phones in its home region of China. Moreover, it builds on the efforts in AI that were first seen with its subsidiary HiSilicon’s in-house AI-enabled chipset the Kirin 970. That SoC was followed up this year by a new iteration featuring two neural processing cores dubbed the Kirin 980 – which is currently thought to be the most powerful mobile processor in the world.
Impact: From an outside perspective, Huawei’s investments in AI have mostly seemed to be focused on hardware. Granted, the devices using the company’s HiSilicon Kirin 970 chips have also featured plenty of software and underlying algorithms enriched with AI and deep learning. But those haven’t really taken the spotlight, with Huawei choosing to instead focus on how much better a smartphone can perform when the workload created by artificial intelligence-related operations is offloaded to secondary, dedicated hardware. Bearing that in mind, and in spite of apparent rapid advances, the virtual assistant market is still actually in its infancy. So although Huawei seems to be getting a very late start, it’s too early to gauge how well it might perform once it really gets going and officially announced a finished assistant of its own to the world.