CES opens in Las Vegas next week, and you know what that means. If it fits into a PC or your pocket; if it sits on a console or kitchen counter; if it beeps, buzzes, or talks; and if it's artificially intelligent or at least somewhat smart; it will be there, somewhere, in a great river of technology flowing through the hotels and convention centers along the Strip.
Intel is reportedly preparing to fabricate "Loihi," a self-learning "brain chip" that mimics how the human intellect functions, as a foundation for further developments in artificial intelligence. Named after an active undersea volcano south of the island of Hawaii, Intel said in a statement Monday that Loihi includes a total of 130,000 silicon "neurons" connected with 130 million "synapses," the junctions that in humans connect the neurons within the brain. The Loihi chip, which Wired reported will be manufactured next month on Intel's 14-nm process technology, will be shared with leading universities and research institutions next year in a bid to advance AI development, Intel said. Coincidentally, Microsoft said Monday that it, too, is working on ways to develop new avenues for alternative computing, including manufacturing actual chips and systems, as well as developing software to power quantum computers. Intel said it believes the Loihi chip could be used autonomously, A Loihi-powered medical device, for example, could determine what a "normal" heart rate was and therefore be able to figure out when an abnormal heart condition presented itself.
You won't need to buy a rack of 400 servers if you have one high-powered Nvidia DGX-1 supercomputer with a Volta GPU sitting on your desktop. The DGX-1 supercomputer -- which looks like a regular rack server -- gets most of its computing power from eight Tesla V100 GPUs. The GPU, the first one based on the brand-new Volta architecture, was introduced at the company's GPU Technology Conference in San Jose, California, on Wednesday. "It comes out of the box, plug it in and go to work," said Nvidia's CEO Jen-Hsun Huang during a keynote speech. But the DGX-1 with Tesla V100 computer is expensive.
Oracle is hiring people for a "new startup organization" inside its North America operation that will focus on key technology trends, including cloud computing, internet of things, artificial Intelligence, and augmented and virtual reality. The Solution Engineering organization the company is setting up will consist of Solution Engineering Centers in Reston, Virginia and Denver, Colorado. The database and enterprise software company has previously indicated its interest in investing in some of these technology areas like machine learning and analytics. It announced in September last year that it was investing in intelligent cloud applications, called Adaptive Intelligent Applications, "that automatically offer individualized recommended actions and streamline the tasks of business users such as human resource or finance professionals." Oracle also announced at OpenWorld last year tools for creating intelligent chatbots that integrate with its software.
New intelligence can be added to mobile devices like the iPhone, Android devices, and low-power computers like Raspberry Pi with Facebook's new open-source Caffe2 deep-learning framework. Caffe2 can be used to program artificial intelligence features into smartphones and tablets, allowing them to recognize images, video, text, and speech and be more situationally aware. It's important to note that Caffe2 is not an AI program, but a tool allowing AI to be programmed into smartphones. It takes just a few lines of code to write learning models, which can then be bundled into apps. The release of Caffe2 is significant.
Cloud computing is all well and good for enterprises with big-data applications and consumers with virtual assistants, but it runs into some limits in an isolated cornfield. On farms and other places far from powerful computers and network connections, there's a trend away from centralized computing even while most of the IT world is embracing it. In remote places, the internet of things requires local processing as well as data-center analysis. So-called edge computing is coming to industries including manufacturing, utilities, shipping, and oil and gas. Agriculture is getting it, too.
For more than 30 years, Intel has made a name with its CPUs, which rule the PC and server markets. Chip advances have helped Intel make devices smaller, faster, and more power-efficient. Computing is now spreading into cars, robots, drones, smart devices, and a wide range of other electronics. Chip requirements have changed with new hardware and applications like artificial intelligence and graphics. Intel is preparing for the future and making big changes in the way it designs chips.
The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has come up with some crazy ideas in the past, and its latest idea is to create computers that are always learning and adapting, much like humans. Mobile devices, computers, and gadgets already have artificial intelligence features, with notable examples being Apple's Siri, Microsoft's Cortana, and Amazon's Alexa. But these devices can only learn and draw conclusions within the scope of information pre-programmed into systems. Existing machine-learning techniques don't allow computers to think outside the box, so to speak, or think dynamically based on the situations and circumstances. The goal of a new DARPA project is to create computers that think like biological entities and are continually learning.
SAP has added some new capabilities to SAP Vora, its in-memory distributed computing system based on Apache Spark and Hadoop. Version 1.3 of Vora includes a number of new distributed, in-memory data-processing engines, including ones for time-series data, graph data and schema-less JSON data, that accelerate complex processing. Common uses for the graph engine might be analyzing social graphs or supply chain graphs, said Ken Tsai, SAP's head of product marketing for database and data management. One application that would benefit from the new time-series engine is looking for patterns of electricity consumption in smart metering data. "You can certainly do it without the time-series engine, but it's not as efficient," Tsai said.
Intel realizes there will be a post-Moore's Law era and is already investing in technologies to drive computing beyond today's PCs and servers. The chipmaker is "investing heavily" in quantum and neuromorphic computing, said Brian Krzanich, CEO of Intel, during a question-and-answer session at the company's investor day on Thursday. "We are investing in those edge type things that are way out there," Krzanich said. To give an idea of how far out these technologies are, Krzanich said his daughter would perhaps be running the company by then. Researching in these technologies, which are still in their infancy, is something Intel has to do to survive for many more decades.