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Amazon's new AZ2 chip powers Echo AI like voice recognition, Visual ID

The second-generation neural processor is 22 times faster than the previous model.

Amazon AZ2 processor

Amazon's AZ2 processor

Screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

Update, Sept. 28, 2021: Amazon hosted an event today to show off the latest editions to its growing lineup of devices as well as updates on its services. You can read a recap on our event coverage page. Original story follows.    

Read more: Amazon's smart products lead the market even as trust in the company lags

Amazon debuted its AZ2 processor Tuesday, a chip that powers artificial intelligence tasks like understanding your voice commands and figuring out who is issuing those commands. It's built into the new Echo Show 15 smart display.

The chip is 22 times more powerful than the earlier AZ1, said Miriam Daniel, vice president of Echo and Alexa devices, at Amazon's smart home device event. It's a quad-core processor, but it uses a scalable design that indicates there's room for growth into more powerful devices.

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The AZ2 chip is key to Visual ID, an optional facial recognition feature that lets Alexa show you personalized recommendations, calendars, to-do lists and more when your face is captured by the camera.

Having the computing horsepower to process voice commands on a device is an important advance in privacy compared to doing the job on central servers. Amazon's earlier AZ1 also enables this local voice processing.

AI chips are a hot area in processor development and help accelerate many tasks previously out of reach of computers. Current artificial intelligence technology, sometimes called machine learning or deep learning, can let computers handle the messy real-world chores like figuring out who's in a photo or screening spam out of your email inbox.