A buzzword you’re going to hear a lot of in 2024 and beyond, AI PCs could make life easier. Or it could just be marketing.
The dawn of the “AI PC” is upon us, as computer sellers spin up the marketing engine with yet another new piece of jargon to confuse, bewilder, and possibly even assist.
Yes, it’s that time again: time to add a new word to your ever-growing tech lexicon. It seems like that happens less often these days, and usually occurs by the adding of a number, such as how WiFi 6E will transition into WiFi 7, or with Thunderbolt 4 eventually making way for Thunderbolt 5.
AI PC is a little bit different. One part marketing and one part actual technology, it’s a sign of things to come that you’re going to see in ads and promises for how using a computer will evolve, and how it could make life easier. Maybe.
AI in hardware
The crux of what makes an “AI PC” isn’t the software, but rather on the hardware side of things, and strange as it is, you might already have it.
For instance, if you have a recent Mac from the Apple M1 MacBook Air onwards, you kind of already have an “AI PC”. Apple doesn’t call it that specifically, but Apple’s Silicon uses Neural Cores meant for AI processing, so it also technically is.
A Mac isn’t a PC, but it can run PC software with the right setup, so in a way, if you own a recent Mac, you kind of already have an AI PC, only it won’t be called one.
In the Windows world, AI integrated hardware is very new by comparison. So new, in fact, that the first chips with AI started coming out in 2023. AMD had them first in Ryzen 7xxx models, and then a new generation popped out in the 8xxx series. Finally, Intel offered up its Intel Core Ultra chips, which have Neural Cores for AI, as well.
That takes care of the hardware, and should mean that any new laptop purchased with new processors from mid-2024 onwards will support artificial intelligence on the hardware level.
There’s your AI PC. So what’s it good for?
AI in software
Weirdly, we don’t actually have much of a clue about the real world uses of an AI PC. We have a lot ideas and a lot of theory, but little of it means anything right now.
The idea, however, is that you’ll be able to use the Neural Cores of the AI part of a computer chip so any AI processes can be handled locally, rather than sent to the cloud.
As it is exists now, if you want to make use of artificial intelligence, you’re typically using server technology in the cloud to do so.
For instance, if you talk to Windows 11 Copilot, you’re sending those instructions to the cloud using your broadband connection and then your computer follows the answers it receives. It not super handy if you’re sending it something you deem as confidential, because your information is going elsewhere.
In an AI PC, that may change. Rather than needing to send your instructions to the cloud, you can run them locally on your machine, meaning they’ll work without an internet connection, such as when you’re mid-flight.
The problem is what that actually means and what it’s good for, and right now, we just don’t know.
Artificial intelligence localised on your computer could mean talking to your computer with words and asking for it to better optimise the battery based on your use, or even telling it that you need to work more on photos today, and to optimise the life accordingly.
It could mean getting a video downloaded off your phone and asking your computer to transcribe the video for privacy purposes, having the AI engine use natural language processing and keeping all the data entirely on your system.
An AI PC could even theoretically process photos based on a set of instructions entirely on your device, all without having to know any impressive Photoshop skills. You might end up saying “make the lighting more balanced, sharpen up the face, and remove the person in the back”, and an AI system could know just what to do.
But we don’t know whether an AI PC will do all of this yet because it will be entirely dependent on the software. And we don’t know what that software looks like yet, and what it will deal with.
Localised AI could lead to improved security
The most important aspect of an AI PC could come from security, both from being a pro-active form of security and using AI on a local machine.
Using AI systems on a machine for on-device AI means you won’t need to share with the cloud for artificial intelligence uses, providing some semblance of security if a model is built to look for threats.
While on-device AI presents more privacy for important files that need to be looked at by AI — because you don’t need to send them to someone else for artificial intelligence analysis — on-device AI could end up bolstering security later on alongside improving privacy.
We’re yet to see what players like McAfee and Norton have to say on the matter, but you can bet that when AI PCs start rolling out, the next generation of security software will connect in some way, making sure their uses of AI protect PCs to an even greater extent than before.
Lots to come
Much of this will probably be announced at CES 2024, but even if it doesn’t, the introduction of AI hardware in PCs at the end of 2023 will signal what’s to come for the following years.
With more AI solutions coming out, there’s a good chance that the buzzword that is “AI” could end up being more than yet-more-marketing and something that does actually, genuinely help. You might need to wait until you find a solution for your computer that does that job, but it should be coming.