Much of the AI technology we use today runs in massive data centers run by cloud computing giants like Amazon, Microsoft and Google. But with a technology called WebGPU that Google is now building into its Chrome browser, web apps can take advantage of AI processing more directly.
Google announced its adoption of WebGPU Google I/O conference Wednesday. With WebGPU, web apps on phones or laptops can better tap into the kinds of artificial intelligence software that immerses everything from creative tools to health apps.
“WebGPU makes the web AI-ready,” said Matt Waddell, who leads Chrome’s developer and consumer focused work, in an exclusive interview before the conference. At Google I/O, the company plans to show off a web app that runs Stability AI’s Stable Diffusion software for turning text prompts into images, he said.
The move reflects the growing prevalence of AI technology that has been used behind the scenes for years but is becoming more prominent with new generative AI tools such as OpenAI’s ChatGPT, Microsoft’s Bing, Google’s Bard and Adobe’s Firefly. Google — caught flat-footed by ChatGPT despite CEO Sundar Pichai declaring Google an AI-first company in 2016 — is racing to capitalize on the excitement.
Although phone and laptop hardware is less powerful than data center server hardware, running AI locally on a device can avoid network problems and help you control your data. That can be useful for businesses with sensitive data or health applications whose results you want to keep private, Waddell said.
The origins of WebGPU date back to years of projects by Google, Apple and others that brought about a revolution in video game hardware on the web. This allows web apps to tap into the raw power of graphics processing units, or GPUs, which previously could only be used by graphics-heavy video games. The computer industry has discovered that GPUs are very good at speeding up AI, too.
AI software can also run on apps that run natively on a device, as they do with software like Adobe’s Lightroom and Photoshop image editing apps. But the acceleration of AI in web apps means that developers have a better chance to take advantage of the universality of the web platform.
“We’re thinking about a more capable and powerful web platform all the time,” Waddell said.
Small browser compatibility hassle
The universality of the web has its problems, however, including fragmented efforts to make new browser capabilities available to programmers. That makes it easy to make a website or web app work equally well on multiple devices without complex solutions.
But also at Google I/O, the company announced a partnership with Mozilla’s Firefox, Apple’s Safari and Microsoft’s Edge to detail a new effort called Baseline to flag web features that developers can trust. in all browsers that support it, said Waddell.
Baseline 2024 should arrive by the end of this year and then be updated as new compatible features arrive.
Move Android apps to the web faster
Another programming innovation that emerged at Google I/O is an extended web technology called WebAssembly — Wasm for short — that promises to speed up web apps. Wasm allows programmers to translate native software to run within web browsers, enabling web versions of Adobe Photoshop and Autodesk’s AutoCAD design software.
At Google I/O, the company plans to announce that developers can now convert apps written in the Kotlin language to Wasm. Because Kotlin is the most widely used language for writing Android apps, it helps Android developers reach new users on other platforms more easily.
Editors’ note: CNET uses an AI engine to generate some personal finance explanations that are edited and fact-checked by our editors. For more, see this post.