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Sergey Yushkeev01 Jul, 2020

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Photo: Getty Images

“I’ve never seen a better time for this industry,” said Mark Edelstone. “Chips are cool again.”

Edelstone, who is chairman of global semiconductor investment banking for Morgan Stanley, and has some 30 years of experience in the chip business, was speaking on a panel at the annual semiconductor forum held (virtually this year) by startup incubator Silicon Catalyst. He was not alone in his assessment.

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Image: Audio Analytic

Smartphones for several years now have had the ability to listen non-stop for wake words, like “Hey Siri” and “OK Google,” without excessive battery usage. These wake-up systems run in special, low-power processors embedded within a phone’s larger chip set. They rely on algorithms trained on a neural network to recognize a broad spectrum of voices, accents, and speech patterns. But they only recognize their wake words; more generalized speech recognition algorithms require the involvement of a phone’s more powerful processors.

Today, Qualcomm announced that Snapdragon 8885G, its latest chipset for mobile devices, will be incorporating an extra piece of software in that bit of semiconductor real estate that houses the wake word recognition engine. Created by Cambridge, U.K. startup Audio Analytic, the ai3-nano will use the Snapdragon’s low-power AI processor to listen for sounds beyond speech. Depending on the applications made available by smartphone manufacturers, the phones will be able to react to such sounds as a doorbell, water boiling, a baby’s cry, and fingers tapping on a keyboard—a library of some 50 sounds that is expected to grow to 150 to 200 in the near future.

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