AI is the future. I’m convinced of this too, because I’ve heard every company that even remotely touches the technology tell me that this is the case. We need AI. It is the basis of every technological innovation in the future.
If you can’t understand the sarcasm, let me bring it down to earth. AI is everywhere, and it’s not surprising. Every year there are new tech trends, but this most recent surge in AI feels different. Ever since the switch was flipped and ChatGPT was unleashed upon the world, the AI frenzy has been on the rise, with some of the world’s largest and richest companies trying to get to the top of the AI heap.
Unlike trends seen before, AI is already being incorporated into everything. This propelled Nvidia to become a trillion-dollar company with its specialized AI accelerator. According to Microsoft, it is now at the heart of Windows with the new CoPilot feature. And you can’t interact with a search box without the AI intervening in an attempt to be helpful (the jury is still out on if it’s actually helpful).
Software is one thing, but the biggest indicator that AI is a big thing is the hardware, and that’s what I want to focus on here. More and more, we are seeing dedicated AI processors in consumer devices. Apple has been doing this for years with its M-series processors, and both Intel and AMD are now building AI accelerators with their mobile processors. Apparently it’s such a big deal that Microsoft saw fit to include a dedicated AI processor in its recent flagship Surface Laptop Studio 2.
They are just high end brands. If you go to companies like Lenovo, Dell, and HP, you can dig up marketing bullet points about accelerating AI tasks with next-generation components thanks to a dedicated AI processor. And what tasks can you speed up? Well, the background is blurry.
Let me go back for a moment. Most AI processing is not done on your device. When you use a service like ChatGPT or Bing Chat, you’re harnessing the power of a data center hundreds or thousands of miles away to do the actual computing. Nothing happens on your device. Microsoft’s CoPilot, which was an essential feature for the Surface Laptop Studio 2 and Windows 11, does not use a dedicated AI processor. It uses the cloud.
On your actual device, the only things your AI processor can do right now are Windows Studio effects: background blur, an auto-framing feature, and a feature that adjusts your eyes so it looks like you’re looking at the camera. Have been. That’s why you obviously need a dedicated AI processor. Better background blur.
Major brands promise that there will be more use of these AI accelerators in the future, but we have yet to see any consumer apps or features that actually take advantage of AI accelerators. All the exciting things you can do with AI – image creation, generative AI in Photoshop, and more – it all happens in the cloud. You can do this on any PC, no AI accelerator required.
We’re definitely seeing the cart before the horse here. As a tech reporter, it’s easy to be cynical about AI, given how constantly it’s talked about, but I truly believe that dedicated AI accelerators will be an important feature in PCs in the future. However, this is in the future. Right now, companies like AMD and Intel are trying to sell hardware to customers who don’t need it. When someone who covers tech for a living is scratching their head about how to take advantage of consumer AI accelerators, you know there’s a problem.
We need apps that can actually use these AI accelerators, and they don’t exist right now. There has been some effort to create a framework for developers to create their own AI-powered apps. However, this has been a year dominated by AI, and while the best companies marketing AI accelerators may come with background blur, it’s important to ask whether everyone really needs this in their PCs. Hardware required. Maybe down the road, yes, but definitely not right now.
You may have noticed that I have left Nvidia out of this discussion. Current leader of AI Is Worked to create dedicated AI features by combining software and hardware together. In consumer PCs, you not only get Nvidia Broadcast – which has better webcam effects than Windows Studio Effects, as well as AI features for your microphones and speakers – but also Deep Learning Super Sampling (DLSS) . From upscaling to better anti-aliasing to more realistic ray tracing, Nvidia is using AI accelerators in its graphics cards. You need the hardware to unlock a variety of features, not just better background blur.
Up to this point, we haven’t seen the same drive from companies building AI accelerators into PC hardware. That’s not true on mobile devices — you can see Apple’s Neural Engine at work in everything from speech recognition to AR apps on iPhones — but PCs haven’t been part of that transition.
We’re building the future of AI in PCs, but it’s not here yet. For now, you don’t need to buy a new laptop for the AI accelerator. Once we see what this hardware can do, we can have an informed discussion about the purpose of these processors.