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The Threat to the AI Revolution: Its Own Circuitry

July 17, 2017

Today everyone is talking about the latest advancements in computer technology. Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Internet of Things, Neural Networks all take center stage. But what about the technology underneath? After all, these technologies are nothing without essentials like electricity, cooling systems, and of course, circuit boards.

Rapid advancements in AI and the cloud has boosted demand for Printed Circuit Boards. According to Globe Newswire’s Printed Circuit Board (PCB) Market: Worldwide Trends, Forecast, and Competitive Analysts (2013-2024), “The global PCB market is expected to reach an estimated $89.7 billion by 2024 with a CAGR of 4.3{ac81dd06c7dc6e1404e9a56140165948aebe48ac9cf873d8e87d83801a96bc3b} from 2019 to 2024.” Clearly, this report envisions a market dominated by artificial intelligence.

The most common printed circuit board is a Flexible Printed Circuit Board, also known as a Flex Printed Circuit Board. There are two types of flex printed circuit boards: 1) Rigid Flex, and 2) Flat Flex. Flat Flex Printed Circuit Boards are pliable and tend to be smaller in size whereas rigid flex printed circuit boards are as their name implies; rigid. This rigidity allows them to have more materials than Flat Flex Printed Circuit Boards. According to Wikipedia.org “The materials include rolled annealed copper, electrodeposited copper, epoxy, acrylic, pre-preg, pressure sensitive, adhesive less base material, FR-4, polyimide, polyester, solder mask, flexible solder mask, and photo image-able cover lay. Rigid-flexible circuits are found in electronic products in many areas, such as, in the military and the medical field.”

Slow Adoption of AI in PCB Design

Interestingly, despite the massive growth expected for the printed circuit board market, utilization of artificial intelligence in their design is sluggish. This is surprising considering that as early as 1991 industry leaders such as Axel R. Hidde and Alexander Prusak in their article The Use of Artificial Intelligence for Printed Circuit Board Manufacturing, envisioned using artificial intelligence to “achieve an interrupted flow of information in….data-supported work processes.”

There are two reasons for this. First, the AI revolution took place only a few years ago with the convergence of computing power compounding (see Moore’s Law), the availability of huge, inexpensive cloud server such as Amazon Web Services, and big data, courtesy of the internet (estimated 1.2 million terabytes). Second, the reactionary response humans have towards artificial intelligence.

According to Ben Jordan of the EEtimes.com, there are “three common reasons why designers don’t like to use auto-routing:

‘It makes a mess’
‘The software doesn’t work’
‘It may reduce the need for human PCB designers’”

This is a common response to the introduction of many artificial intelligence technologies which effectively automate the work of humans, as an AI-enabled design system would produce. Many people point out at the lack of human intervention, in an application which is automated by artificial intelligence, or in this case, the poor artistic quality.

There is also a concern that artificial intelligence and consequently automation will eliminate jobs. While in some cases jobs will be eliminated, in AI circuit design will still require human intervention to ensure that that the circuit design is desirable for marketing. This requires judgment and judgment is something that AI applications are not good at. This is a truly human quality.