Intel Turns to Facebook, Other Tech Companies for AI Chip

Intel, Facebook and other tech companies are working together on a chip aimed to power artificial intelligence that will also be direct competition for Nvidia’s chips. The new Intel chip will be built to accelerate deep learning, which, among other tasks, will allow computers to recognize objects in photos and specific words in speech. The chip, dubbed the Nervana Neural Network Processor and based on Intel’s acquisition of startup Nervana Systems, is slated to be released in limited quantities in 2018.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the new chip will be “available next year through Intel Nervana Cloud, a cloud-computing service, and as an appliance that customers can install in their own data centers.”

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“This is the first piece of silicon,” said Intel chief executive Brian Krzanich. “We have a whole family of silicon planned.”

The company says it is “working with a select group of companies to fine-tune the chip,” and that the “technology could contribute to advances in medical diagnoses, financial fraud detection, weather prediction, self-driving cars and other areas.” Moor Insights & Strategy analyst Karl Freund estimates the AI-specific hardware market “is worth at least $500 million this year and could grow to as much as $9 billion by 2020.”

Deep learning is an efficient way for “computers to find useful information in the floods of data … especially imagery, sounds, documents, and other data that isn’t in strictly organized formats, such as spreadsheets and databases,” but that “it requires huge quantities of computing power to process immense stores of data.”

With deep learning, computers are trained by studying large amounts of data for patterns; “the Nervana NNP is designed to speed up the training phase by taking shortcuts specific to neural networks, the software structures that drive deep learning.” Also, many NNPs can “work together on a single task.”

Last year, Intel said its goal was to “boost by 100 times the speed of training,” but it currently will not “provide metrics for evaluating the performance of the new chip.” “Intel will be competitive but is unlikely to have a huge advantage,” said Freund, but Krzanich noted that the Nervana chip “is not only about speed, but it’s the amount of data we can go look at.”