Faster computer chips spell good news for artificial intelligence research

By | February 14, 2007

Teraflop Research Chip PolarisThe last few days, computer juggernauts Intel and IBM have introduced new hardware that promises vast performance improvements in computing speeds.

Intel unveiled their 80-core Teraflop Research Chip (Polaris) that is capable of over one trillion calculations per second (1 Teraflop.) This kind of performance in the past was only achievable with a 2,500 square foot super computer. Intel’s Polaris is not only very powerful but also consumes very little power, the equivalent of today’s 2-core CPUs. Intel executives speculated that the new chip will be available for desktop and laptop PC use in 5 years although the most conservative ones predict that what is most likely to be available in this time frame is a smaller chip with maybe 20 to 40 cores.

In the meantime, IBM showed data about their embedded DRAM (eDRAM) chips that promise to improve computer performance by increasing the amount of low latency memory available to CPUs. The new memory chips are slated to replace SRAM, which is typically used for on-die CPU cache. The new chips occupy one third the space and consume one fifth the power of the currently used SRAM technology. The eDRAM chips should be available from IBM in 2008 along with the new generation of 45nm high performance microprocessors.

These advances in chip design are good news for artificial intelligence research. As I write this, I am waiting for my single core Pentium 4 computer to solve a rather small robot planning problem. Solving this problem takes usually more than 5 hours. The algorithm I use is in fact easily parallelized and if I had access to a CPU with 80 cores, I could definitely get the same problem solved at best 80 times faster. I am definitely looking forward to the coming of these new multi-core CPUs.