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Updated: Sep 23, 2019

Credit by: Eileen Yu

Chinese tech giant announces the commercial launch of its Ascend 910 artificial intelligence (AI) chip, touting its low power consumption of 310W, as well as AI computing framework MindSpore, which will go open source in the first quarter of 2020

Huawei Technologies has officially unleashed its artificial intelligence (AI) chip Ascend 910, which it says has a maximum power consumption of just 310W--lower than its originally planned specs of 350W. The chip is touted to have "more computing power than any other AI processor", delivering 256 teraflops at half-precision floating point (FP16)  and 512 teraflops for integer precision calculations. 

The Chinese tech giant also announced the commercial availability of its MindSpore AI computing framework, which it said was designed to ease the development of AI applications and improve the efficiencies of such tools. 

Huawei said the AI framework handled only gradient and model data that already had been processed, so user privacy could be maintained. The platform also had "built-in protection technology" to keep AI models secured. 

MindSpore supports various platforms including edge, cloud, and devices, and is touted to work on a design concept that enables developers to more easily and quickly train their models. 

"In a typical neural network for natural language processing (NLP), MindSpore has 20% fewer lines of core code than leading frameworks on the market, and it helps developers raise their efficiency by at least 50%," Huawei said. 

The Chinese vendor further pitched Ascend 910 as a component for AI model training and, combined with MindSpore, could run training AI models using Google's TensorFlow at speeds twice as fast as mainstream training cards. 

It said it would continue to build AI processors fit for various scenarios including on-vehicle computing for autonomous driving and edge computing. 

The launch comes almost a year after Huawei first announced last October plans to release a full suite of AI products including chips, development toolkit, and cloud services. It added that this portfolio would be further expanded later to encompass an AI acceleration card, AI appliance, and AI server.

Speaking at the official launch Friday, Huawei's rotating chairman Eric Xu said: "Everything is moving forward according to plan, from R&D to product launch. We promised a full-stack, all-scenario AI portfolio and today we delivered, with the release of Ascend 910 and MindSpore. This also marks a new stage in Huawei's AI strategy."

According to Xu, MindSpore would be released to the open source community in the first quarter of 2020 as part of efforts to drive the adoption of AI. 

With the launch, Huawei appears to suggest it is business-as-usual amidst ongoing trade tensions between its Chinese government and the US. 

Xu said its business had been less impacted by the trade restrictions than originally thought and it was "fully prepared" to work with US sanctions. Speaking to reporters at the Ascend 910 launch in its Shenzhen headquarters, Xu said earlier estimates that the trade tariffs would affect Huawei's revenue by US$30 billion this year would likely be less. Nonetheless, its smartphone revenue was expected to be slashed by US$10 billion this year due to the trade ban, he said in a Reuters report.

Huawei's founder Ren Zhengfei last week said the company was planning a business revamp, to be completed within three to five years, so it could create an "invincible iron army" to withstand the harsh US trade climate. In an internal memo to employees, Ren said Huawei's consumer business faced a "painful long march" and the company needed to have a "complete overhaul in harsh and difficult conditions", reported Bloomberg.

The US Department of Commerce this week granted Huawei a further 90-day licence extension, following the temporary license put in place in May. "The continuation of the [Temporary General License] is intended to afford consumers across America the necessary time to transition away from Huawei equipment, given the persistent national security and foreign policy threat," the US government agency said. At the same time, the department added 46 more Huawei affiliates to its Entity List, taking the total to over 100. The list bars US companies from transferring technology to the Chinese vendor without a special licence from the US government.

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