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Intel’s self-learning ‘Loihi’ AI chip wants machines to think like humans

CHIPMAKER Intel has shown off ‘Loihi’, a self-learning neuromorphic chip that aims to make machines think and learn more like humans.

The chip, named after an active undersea volcano south of the island of Hawaii for some reason, is made up of 130,000 silicon ‘neurons’ connected with 130 million ‘synapses,’ in order to mimic how the human brain functions. 

Like the brain’s neural networks, Loihi will use ‘spiking neurons’ as its basic computational building block, which means that instead of processing information as binary 1s and 0s, it modulates the synaptic strengths or weight of the interconnections based on the timing of these spikes, and store these changes locally at the interconnections.

“Intelligent behaviours emerge from the cooperative and competitive interactions between multiple regions within the brain’s neural networks and its environment,” Intel explains, adding that compared to rival spiking neural network implementations, Loihi is showing a million-fold improvement in performance for digit recognition problems.

Michael Mayberry, corporate vice president and managing director of Intel Labs, said in a blog post: “Intel has developed a first-of-its-kind self-learning neuromorphic chip – codenamed Loihi – that mimics how the brain functions by learning to operate based on various modes of feedback from the environment.

Related: Intel’s Movidius Compute Stick is ‘world’s first’ USB AI accelerator

“This extremely energy-efficient chip, which uses the data to learn and make inferences, gets smarter over time and does not need to be trained in the traditional way. It takes a novel approach to computing via asynchronous spiking.”

Mayberry says that this energy efficiency is “1,000 times more” than general purpose computing required for typical training systems, and adds this type of on-chip learning can drastically reduce machine learning time by working locally, rather than from the cloud. 

Loihi will be built on Intel’s 14nm manufacturing process and will go into production next month before. While the chip isn’t yet ready for prime time, it will be shared with leading universities and research institutions in 2018 in a bid to advance AI development.

News of Intel taking on the likes of IBM and Nvidia in the area of AI research follows the launch of the firm’s 8th-generation ‘Coffee Lake’ desktop CPUs. Intel claims that the flagship chip, tCore i7-8700K, is its “best gaming desktop processor ever.” µ

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