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Recognizing an urgent and substantial need among its business clients, Intel Corporation is actively working with such familiar names as Facebook to develop a new chip that will enable and encourage continued advances in artificial intelligence. In particular, the chip can support deep learning, the sort of artificial intelligence that is able to identify specific elements, such as particular objects in a photograph, that thus far has eluded the ability of computers.

In developing the chip, Intel has relied on its own expertise but also the input of key customers, most of which see vast potential for deep learning. By enabling computers to study vast amounts of data, learn from them, and then apply that knowledge to new tasks, the new chip, called the Nervana neural network processor, promises new advancements in various goals that these companies have set. For example, it could increase the accuracy and precision of automated medical diagnoses, enhance the capacities of driverless cars, produce more accurate weather forecasts, and allow investigators to spot and prevent fraud in financial transactions. Today, these sorts of predictions, involving innumerable variables, are difficult to make with any confidence. But most technology companies hope deeply to change that, such that estimates indicate that the artificial intelligence market will be worth $9 billion by 2020. Intel plans to be a part of these efforts and the resulting market.

With the Nervana processor, Intel promises that computing can take place faster, because it takes shortcuts, similar to those that the human brain follows. Furthermore, it designed the chip to be able to collaborate with other chips, so that companies can “stack” their computing power by leveraging the capacities of multiple Nervana processors at the same time.

It is not the only entrant to this market, of course. Google reportedly is working on developing its own chips to facilitate deep learning. In addition, a company called Nvidia designed chips to review and process graphics, then realized that they functioned well and efficiently on various deep learning tasks as well. Thus far, Nvidia dominates the market for deep learning hardware and software, but clearly Intel hopes to change that position. By leveraging its connections with and knowledge of some of its best business clients, it may be able to do just that.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How is Intel attempting to ensure that its chips appeal to its business customers?
  2. In what stage of the buying process are business customers such as Facebook, when it comes to deep learning tools?

Source: Ted Greenwald and Jack Nicas, “Facebook Pitches In on Intel’s Coming Artificial Intelligence Chip,” The Wall Street Journal, October 18, 2017

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