Intel Bets Big on Deep Learning

Monday, August 15, 2016

Intel Bets Big on Deep Learning

Artificial Intelligence

In a deal rivaling Google's acquisition of DeepMind, Intel has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire Nervana Systems, a company that specializes in deep learning technology.

Artificial intelligence startup Nervana Systems was founded in  just 2014 claims to have developed a fully-optimized software and hardware stack for deep learning. Now the company has been acquired by Intel in a deal rivaling Google's recent purchase of DeepMind, the company behind the historic AlphaGo victory a few months ago. Intel will pay a reported $408 million for the company founded by Naveen Rao.

Nervana System is due to release what it is calling Nervana Engine, a deep-learning-focused, application-specific integrated circuit sometime next year.

Training deep learning networks involves moving a lot of data, The Nervana Engine is purpose-built to overcome the shortcomings of memory technology using a new system called High Bandwidth Memory that is both high-capacity and high-speed, providing 32 GB of on-chip storage and fast 8 Tera-bits per second of memory access speed.

Nervana Engine

The start up's technology and expertise will help Intel expand its capabilities in artificial intelligence, according to Diane Bryant, executive vice president and general manager of Intel's Data Center Group.

According to Bryant,
At Intel we believe in the power of collaboration: the goodness inherent in exchanging fresh ideas and diverse points of view. We believe that bringing together the Intel engineers who create the Intel Xeon and Intel Xeon Phi processors with the talented Nervana Systems’ team, we will be able to advance the industry faster than would have otherwise been possible. We will continue to invest in leading edge technologies that complement and enhance Intel’s AI portfolio.

Intel buys Nervana Systems
Diane Bryant and Naveen Rao

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"We will apply Nervana’s software expertise to further optimize the Intel Math Kernel Library and its integration into industry standard frameworks," she said. "Nervana’s Engine and silicon expertise will advance Intel’s AI portfolio and enhance the deep learning performance and TCO of our Intel Xeon and Intel Xeon Phi processors."

"Nervana intends to continue all existing development efforts, including the Nervana deep learning framework, Nervana deep learning platform, and the Nervana Engine deep learning hardware."
With NVIDIA making large gains in deep learning system architecture, the Nervana Systems acquisition makes a lot of sense for Intel to remain competitive. The Nervana Engine may be a new way to take on the rise of GPU technology for the company. It remains to be seen if the move will let Intel catch up to its competitors, or even leapfrog them.

Rao, CEO and co-founder of Nervana, also commented on the acquisition: "With this acquisition, Intel is formally committing to pushing the forefront of AI technologies. Nervana intends to continue all existing development efforts, including the Nervana deep learning framework, Nervana deep learning platform, and the Nervana Engine deep learning hardware."

"While artificial intelligence is often equated with great science fiction, it isn’t relegated to novels and movies," Intel's Bryant said. "AI is all around us, from the commonplace (talk-to-text, photo tagging, fraud detection) to the cutting edge (precision medicine, injury prediction, autonomous cars). Encompassing compute methods like advanced data analytics, computer vision, natural language processing and machine learning, artificial intelligence is transforming the way businesses operate and how people engage with the world."


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