COMPUTER CHIPS ARE usually small. The processor that powers the latest iPhones and iPads is smaller than a fingernail; even the beefy devices used in cloud servers aren’t much bigger than a postage stamp. Then there’s this new chip from a startup called Cerebras: It’s bigger than an iPad all by itself.
The silicon monster is almost 22 centimeters—roughly 9 inches—on each side, making it likely the largest computer chip ever, and a monument to the tech industry’s hopes for artificial intelligence. Cerebras plans to offer it to tech companies trying to build smarter AI more quickly.
Eugenio Culurciello, a fellow at chipmaker Micron who has worked on chip designs for AI but was not involved in the project, calls the scale and ambition of Cerebras’ chip “crazy.” He also believes that it makes sense, because of the intense computing power demanded by large scale AI projects such as virtual assistants and self-driving cars. “It will be expensive, but some people will probably use it,” he says.
The current boom in all things AI is driven by a technology called deep learning. AI systems built on it are developed using a process called training, in which algorithms optimize themselves to a task by analyzing example data.
The training data might be medical scans annotated to mark tumors or a bot’s repeated attempts to win a videogame. Software made this way is generally more powerful when it has more data to learn from or the learning system itself is larger and more complex.
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