- IBM developed TrueNorth, one of the first brain-like chips on the market.
- IBM wants TrueNorth to power next-generation smartphones and mobile devices.
- IBM is in discussions with leading computer system manufacturers, "the who’s who in the mobile space and the IoT space."
- AI powered by brain-like chips promises dramatic efficiency and performance improvements for advanced mobile applications and personal assistants.
- Competitors are Apple, Google, and Facebook, but the mobile and IoT AI market promises to be huge, with room for many players.
IBM (NYSE:IBM) is working on next-generation "neuromorphic" (brain-like) computing chips to make mobile devices better at tasks that are easy for brains but tough for computers, such as speech recognition and image interpretation, the prestigious MIT Technology Review reports. At the same time, IBM is pursuing the first commercial applications of its new chips.
Neuromorphic computing tries to achieve more efficient computation by emulating how neurons and synapses process information in the brain, very efficiently at low power. The "TrueNorth" chip, a neuromorphic chip with 1,000,000 neurons and 256 million programmable synapses unveiled in August 2014, developed by IBM with funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is one of the first neuromorphic chips on the market.
Now, IBM wants TrueNorth to power next-generation smartphones and mobile devices. "We’re working on a next generation of the chip, but what’s most important now is commercial partners,” says IBM senior VP John Kelly. "Companies could incorporate this in all sorts of mobile devices, machinery, automotive, you name it."
Advanced, super-expensive and power-hungry supercomputers are beginning to approach the raw computational capacity of the human brain, and IBM is working with the US government to develop next-generation supercomputers in the "exascale" range (one quintillion operations a second, 30 times faster than today’s fastest computer), by 2025. The company is well positioned to first receive federal funding to develop world-class exascale computing infrastructure, and then exploit the developments in the marketplace.
The Synaptic Supercomputer
But raw computational power is not the only measure of computer performance. In particular, it's worth noting that there is a huge gap in power consumption between a supercomputer, which may require a dedicated power plant, and the brain, which is a light, portable and efficient computer powered by three meals a day. It's evident that efficiency, small size and weight, and low power consumption are critical factors for mobile computing.
"The [TrueNorth] chip consumes merely 70 milliwatts, and is capable of 46 billion synaptic operations per second, per watt - literally a synaptic supercomputer in your palm," noted Dharmendra Modha, who leads development of IBM’s brain-inspired chips. "A hypothetical computer to run [a human-scale] simulation in real-time would require 12GW, whereas the human brain consumes merely 20W."
Modha is persuaded that the TrueNorth chip could run advanced Artificial Intelligence (AI) software with high power efficiency. His team is creating tools that will make it possible to transfer trained-up deep learning neural networks onto a TrueNorth chip. "This chip was envisioned as a substrate onto which a large variety of neural networks can be mapped for real-time, ultra-low energy, ultra-low volume applications,” he says.
Neuromorphic Chips Will Make PA's A Lot More Interesting
According to Kelly, adding neuromorphic chips to smartphones could make them capable of voice recognition and computer vision, without having to tap into cloud computing infrastructure, and using very little power. Personal assistants like Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) Siri and Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) Now offer glimpses of what is to come, but tomorrow's personal assistants powered by neuromorphic computing promise to be whole orders of magnitude more powerful and usable - think "Samantha" in the award-winning film Her.
IBM is in discussions with leading computer system manufacturers, yet undisclosed. "We’re talking with the who’s who in the mobile space and the IoT [Internet of Things] space,” said Kelly. A TrueNorth chip would be added to device designs as a "co-processor" that works alongside the conventional processor and never powers down.
Personal assistants able to really interact with their owner, sense their surroundings with computer vision, and offer useful advice in response to voice commands, are among the hottest trends in mobile computing. This technology could also make IoT systems really smart and adaptive. IBM seems to be on the right path to promote the TrueNorth chip as a core component of tomorrow's smartphones and smart IoT devices, which could boost IBM stock sky high in the mid term.
IBM Stock Remains A Promising Buy
There is, of course, competition - besides Apple and Google, Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) is also aggressively developing AI research - but the mobile AI market promises to be huge, with room for many players. Therefore, IBM stock remains a promising buy-and-hold for investors bullish on high tech.