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IBM’s latest AI chip boosts performance by 22x while maintaining’mind-blowing’ energy efficiency.

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The team has been immersed in developing the next iteration of the potentially groundbreaking NorthPole hardware for several years.

IBM recently unveiled a cutting-edge prototype artificial intelligence (AI) chip, claiming it to be significantly faster and remarkably more energy-efficient than any currently available chip. According to research findings featured in the October 19th issue of Science Magazine, this new chip, named NorthPole, boasts a 25-fold improvement in energy efficiency as per a relevant benchmark, along with a staggering 22-fold reduction in latency. In practical terms, this could translate into achieving post-GPU performance at a fraction of the energy cost.

In an article published in Nature, Damien Querlioz, a nanoelectronics researcher at the University of Paris-Saclay in Palaiseau, marveled at the energy efficiency of NorthPole, describing it as “mind-blowing.”

As per the research paper from the IBM Research team, “NorthPole outperforms all prevalent architectures, even those employing more advanced technological processes.”

One of the major challenges in enhancing AI processing is known as the “von Neumann bottleneck.” With existing architectures, AI chips often outpace the memory required for running processes, resulting in latency when transferring information between the processing unit and random access memory. This challenge is particularly pronounced at “the edge,” where chips and data are co-located. For years, many experts have regarded the removal of this bottleneck as the key to enabling potent neural networks to run locally on devices.

IBM Research has addressed this challenge with its latest prototype chip, fabricated in the company’s Alamaden, California laboratory. This innovative chip effectively circumvents the von Neumann bottleneck by integrating the memory component onto the processing chip itself. As Dharmendra Modha, the lead developer of the chip, puts it, NorthPole represents “an entire network on a chip” and charts a radically different course from the traditional von Neumann architecture.

The benchmark used to showcase the chip’s prowess is ResNet50, a 50-layer neural network primarily employed for testing computer vision tasks, such as image classification. The reported results for NorthPole hardware on this benchmark indicate its potential for exceptional performance in tasks such as autonomous surgery, self-driving car operations, and various other robotics-related endeavors.

IBM Research has been deeply immersed in research on the next chip based on the NorthPole architecture for several years already. According to the company’s blog, “This is just the beginning of Modha’s work on NorthPole.”

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