Computer processor technologies have long been heading towards a brick wall or plateau in which current processor technology would be limited by the amount of transistors we could pack onto a chip. What is the next iteration — how can we possibly make things smaller and more versatile, and continue to improve capabilities? The big players are pushing ahead.
Earlier this year we talked about what is happening regarding PC processing power and the wall manufacturers are running into. Moore’s Law is hard at work and it’s estimated the gains in speed over the next five years will only see a 10 percent increase compared to the years prior when we were seeing speeds double year over year. With the seemingly inevitable slowdown of progress looming over the industry, major manufacturers are gearing up to develop the next wave of speed and efficiency we all crave.
Earlier this year Intel showcased its new prototype processor, Loihi, which is considered a neuromorphic processor. Neuromorphic engineering is a term that has been thrown around for a couple of decades. The basic idea behind neuromorphic engineering is creating a set of circuits and systems that behave the way information transmissions occur in our brains. Much like our brains, over time a neuromorphic processor would be intelligent enough to learn and create new pathways and circuits for communication through a silicon lattice architecture — essentially, being able to update itself to be more efficient. In addition, these new processors will be able to run through millions of computations simultaneously, something that today requires multiple supercomputers to achieve.
We have all heard the horror stories of AI replacing jobs, creating an ecosystem of unemployed citizens with nowhere to work because the machines have become capable and are outpacing them in roles where cognition was our last remaining vestige of superiority. The day is coming when our brains’ ability to process data is going to be outpaced, and that day is now. Earlier this year a milestone was published in Science Advances stating that these new chips were processing information quicker than a human brain. Great news for processors, but bad news for those facing the purge delivered by automation. Thankfully we are at a point where these devices are not going to market anytime soon, but the need for them is there. Software that leverages artificial intelligence does exist, but the infrastructure to process the computations was never designed to support the way new software thinks.
Though this refreshed push into the world of neuromorphic processors was announced by Intel in 2016, its viability in the commercial market and when that entrance would come, if ever, remains to be seen. Though still in the early stages of development, Loihi and others like it are making breakthroughs each year and showing plenty of promise for the future of the processor.
Brandon Cerocke is the director of sales and marketing for IQ Systems Inc.
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