Rice University's technology for a "gambling" computer chip, which could boost battery life as much as tenfold on cell phones and laptops while slashing development costs for chipmakers, has been named to MIT Technology Review's coveted annual top 10 list of technologies that are "most likely to alter industries, fields of research, and even the way we live."
Technology Review, one of the world's oldest and most respected trade publications, features its annual TR10 Special Report in the March/April issue. Both the Department of Defense and chipmaker Intel have underwritten research on Rice's new chip, which is known as PCMOS.
"We are challenging a long-held convention in computing, the notion that 'information' is, by definition, correct and exact," said PCMOS inventor Krishna Palem, Rice's Ken and Audrey Kennedy Professor in Computer Science. "In fact, the human mind routinely makes do with imprecise and incomplete information. Our goal is create a new computer architecture that takes advantage of this innate human ability in order to slash power consumption and hold down microchip design costs."
The PCMOS concept is deceptively simple; slash power to some transistors on the processor and take a chance that a few calculations will be incorrect. The technology piggybacks onto "complementary metal-oxide semiconductor" technology, or CMOS, the basic technology chipmakers already use. The probability of calculation errors yields the name "probabilistic" CMOS, or PCMOS.
One example of the way people deal with incomplete information comes in watching video on a cell phone, Palem said. His group's previous work has shown that viewers cannot tell the difference between video processed on regular microchips and PCMOS chips. Palem said the key is knowing how people "value" particular numbers. For example, when scanning a bank statement people will almost certainly catch an error worth thousands of dollars, while casting a blind eye to errors worth only pennies.
"Money is just the most obvious example, but we assign values automatically to most of the information we take in," Palem said. "In the case of the video, we concentrate our precise processing on the parts of the picture that are most valuable."
PCMOS chips compute differently than regular chips because of way electricity moves through their transistors. Rather than pushing the same amount of power through all parts of the PCMOS chip, voltage is assigned on a sliding scale. The upshot being that the numbers that users value the most -- the thousands place on the bank statement, for example -- are always correct, while less valuable numbers may be incorrect.
"Professor Palem is proposing a radical change in how we use integrated circuits," said David Rutledge, chair of the division of engineering and applied science at the California Institute of Technology. "Turning down the supply voltage reduces the power requirements and introduces randomness that has the potential to be exploited for computations."
Shekhar Borkar, an Intel Fellow and Director of Intel’s Microprocessor Technology Lab. said, "Innovative technologies like PCMOS will become increasingly important as the industry looks to maintain pace with Moore’s Law."
"Moore's Law," a concept first put forward by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, refers to the industry's decades-long track record of doubling transistors per square inch on integrated circuits every 18 months. This exponential shrinkage has resulted in transistors on today's chips that measure a scant 45 billionths of a meter across. Palem, who recently finished a yearlong appointment as a Gordon Moore Distinguished Scholar at Caltech, said that as chipmakers strive to maintain Moore's Law, the basic physics of CMOS will yield transistors that are inherently probabilistic.
David Ruth | EurekAlert!
CubeSats prove their worth for scientific missions
17.04.2019 | American Physical Society
Largest, fastest array of microscopic 'traffic cops' for optical communications
12.04.2019 | University of California - Berkeley
A stellar flare 10 times more powerful than anything seen on our sun has burst from an ultracool star almost the same size as Jupiter
A localization phenomenon boosts the accuracy of solving quantum many-body problems with quantum computers which are otherwise challenging for conventional computers. This brings such digital quantum simulation within reach on quantum devices available today.
Quantum computers promise to solve certain computational problems exponentially faster than any classical machine. “A particularly promising application is the...
The technology could revolutionize how information travels through data centers and artificial intelligence networks
Engineers at the University of California, Berkeley have built a new photonic switch that can control the direction of light passing through optical fibers...
Physicists observe how electron-hole pairs drift apart at ultrafast speed, but still remain strongly bound.
Modern electronics relies on ultrafast charge motion on ever shorter length scales. Physicists from Regensburg and Gothenburg have now succeeded in resolving a...
Engineers create novel optical devices, including a moth eye-inspired omnidirectional microwave antenna
A team of engineers at Tufts University has developed a series of 3D printed metamaterials with unique microwave or optical properties that go beyond what is...
17.04.2019 | Event News
15.04.2019 | Event News
09.04.2019 | Event News
18.04.2019 | Life Sciences
18.04.2019 | Physics and Astronomy
18.04.2019 | Life Sciences