Birth of the Nervana Neural Network Processor

The future of technology is artificial intelligence, but before it can radically change the world, we need to develop proper hardware that can give the machines the ability to learn.

To that end, The Wall Street Journal reports that Intel is working with Facebook and a number of other companies on a new processor called Nervana —also known as the Nervana Neural Network Processor. The chip is the result of work done by Intel Nervana, and was designed to accelerate the AI learning process known as deep learning, in which a computer is taught to recognize objects, patterns, speech, and complex concepts so that it can mimic the same learning capabilities exhibited by humans.

Intel's partners are helping "fine tune" Nervana, while Facebook has started taking a deeper look at the processor and realizing its capabilities.

"[They said], ‘Hey, this really could change the way we think about artificial intelligence. And help us really steer how we build software and hardware,” said Intel Chief Executive Brian Krzanich at The WSJ D.Live conference on Tuesday.

Efficient Deep Learning

When it comes to deep learning, existing computers must use a lot of processing power to handle the amount of data used during the teaching phase. Nervana, however, is meant to take shortcuts that can reduce the amount of processing power required, enabling it to perform calculations.

Intel has yet to detail how it's tracking the chip's performance, but the company seems confident in Nervana's ability to impact technologies like weather forecasts and self-driving cars — the latter of which uses deep learning to recognize other cars on the road, as well as driving lines in order to safely navigate an environment. Intel also recently partnered with Google's Waymo to developed better autonomous vehicles.

In a press statement, Krzanich stated Intel has multiple Nervana projects in the works that will "deliver higher performance and enable new levels of scalability for AI models." The company is currently on track to achieve 100 times greater AI performance by 2020.

"We designed the Intel Nervana NNP to free us from the limitations imposed by existing hardware, which wasn’t explicitly designed for AI," said Naveen Rao, vice president of the AI Products Group at Intel Nervana, in a blog post. "Our hope is to open up the possibilities for a new class of AI applications that are limited only by our imaginations."

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