Intel Team Focuses on Low Voltage Transistor to Power AI

Neuroscientist and Intel’s chief technology officer of AI Amir Khosrowshahi revealed that he is remaining at Intel with a team of researchers building an innovative integrated circuit (IC). The IC under development will feature transistors that will, hope the researchers, function at voltages as low as 100 millivolts, a step towards matching voltage of communication in the brain. The existence of such an IC would unleash power-hungry AI applications targeting climate change, waste management and other global problems.

VentureBeat reports that the project, dubbed MESO (magnetoelectric spin-orbit), will provide “30 times performance,” although Khosrowshahi admitted that, “ it could take a decade to make the decisive breakthroughs necessary to bring it to market.” Nonetheless, he pointed out, the research could begin impacting AI as soon as the next two to five years, because “MESO’s transistor and interconnects move voltage around in ways that can help data move more efficiently in AI applications.”

Khosrowshahi stated that MESO “will produce significant improvements in the design of application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs) for AI, and possibly even new products in the data center for learning and inference.”

“AI is a great place to experiment on the substrate platform,” he said. “We’re going to replace the existing substrate for doing matrix multiplication, perhaps with silicon photonics (we will use light). Or we’re going to use room temperature quantum materials. Or we’re going to use analog circuits. There are all sorts of things we can experiment with.”

The MESO system switches “share similarities with the architecture of neural networks in AI … [which] use weights to represent the influence of nodes.” With low voltage and “efficient transistor interconnects,” MESO also meets the challenge of limiting energy consumption in AI applications.

Khosrowshahi is working with Intel senior fellow Ian Young, a circuit designer and lead researcher, who is engaged in Intel’s “Beyond CMOS” efforts and has “ideas for still more spin-offs, including AI algorithms (not yet conceived) that would otherwise be limited by the amount of available power.”

Intel is also a member of the Semiconductor Research Corporation (SRC), which includes IBM, Micron, Samsung, TSMC and ARM, and is investing in the “Beyond CMOS” initiative. DARPA, which funds Beyond CMOS research, recently received $2 billion from President Trump’s initiative to support AI.

Still, said Khosrowshahi, it’s difficult to explain the relevance of MESO. “It’s the core technology that runs everything,” he explained. “ If you don’t have this, you don’t have anything.” He added that, “the workloads required by AI are providing huge incentives to keep innovating, which makes him believe MESO could realize its potential sooner than anticipated.”

“I think we’ll get there faster than people expect,” he said.

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