Why CIOs must understand Apple’s Neural Engine plan

Your iPhone will know you better than you know yourself, but no one else will know what your smartphone knows

Apple, iOS, iPhone, Neural Engine, Siri, Artificial intelligence
Credit: Activedia via pixabay

One day, soon, your Apple iPhone will be able to figure out when you’re going to get sick, will book itself in for servicing when faults develop, will let you know if it picks up a virus, and will be able to figure out if the person you are sharing data with is authorized to see that information. CIOs should begin to think about how this level of machine intelligence may impact their business.

Intelligent machines

Apple is allegedly developing a Neural Engine chip, which will be dedicated to performing artificial intelligence (AI) computation on mobile devices.

This dedicated processor will leave the main processor to handle everything your smartphones already do, but will be able to handle machine intelligence functions natively on the device.

That’s important because at the moment much local AI processing demands data be sent to cloud-based services for analysis, this slows down the process and poses a security and privacy risk. Apple wants to make its devices truly intelligent, at least that is the sense of the current claims, creating an ecosystem of truly smart devices designed to support the user.

Science faction

The thing is, while this means cool consumer implementations like Siri and image processing a la Photos, it also extends Apple’s leadership in the mobile enterprise.

Why?

Because the ability to handle native AI processing on the device (part of what motivated the Tuplejump acquisition) opens up huge opportunity in next-generation enterprise tech – from software defined networking to neuromorphic hardware with deep-learning algorithms baked deep inside the device.

Such science fiction-like technologies are no longer fiction, they are becoming fact.

Apple’s neural chip means it plans to ensure its hardware is able to support these astonishing technologies as they become more mainstream.

Enterprise opportunity

Enterprises will find multiple ways to exploit Apple’s smart device platforms. Deep learning, big data mining, automated vehicle control, surveillance, public transport and utility management.

Literally any field in which big data analysis is already being used will see significant improvements as such information is gathered and put into useful data formats on the device. In combination with improvements in quantum computing, enterprise users should begin to figure out what businesses and services they can provide to benefit from such information flow.

Smart business

Enterprise users will also benefit from internal deployment of these smart technologies, from immediate, real-time business intelligence analytics to sophisticated contextual unified communications systems and smart workspaces.

All such deployments should enjoy significant performance, reliability and privacy benefits from on-chip machine intelligence on Apple kit.

(Native support on the device is always going to be more effective than non-native reliance on pure cloud services, and that’s even before you stop to consider tricky questions around cross-border data transfer and retrieval.)

For the many, not the few

I think Apple understands that gathering such information while preserving privacy can only really work at device level.  

The idea is that the raw data can be anonymized and turned into structured data on the device, secured with tech like differential privacy and then shared with analytics systems to deliver smart benefits across a range of usage cases, from health alert management and public transit control to device troubleshooting and intelligent network infrastructure analysis.  

“…what’s going to make a major difference in the future, in addition to those things, for me to be emotionally connected to this device, is the intelligence that it has — how much it understands me, how much it can predict what I need and what I want, and how valuable it is at being a companion to me,” he said. “AI is going to be at the core of that, and we’re going to be some of the people who help with that, here in Seattle, but of course there will be tons of groups in Cupertino doing amazing things with that, too,” Carlos Guestrin, Apple director of machine learning said.

Apple will leap frog competitors in its attempt: because its solutions will be device-based, rather than being hosted in the cloud they have personal privacy and security at their core.  

The promise is to provide all the convenience of machine intelligence, without the surveillance, a fitting tribute to Apple’s heroes, Martin Luther King and JF Kennedy: after all, technology should set you free, not erode your liberty.

Ultimately, your iPhone will know you better than you know yourself, but no one else will know what your smartphone knows. Unless you choose to tell them.

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