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Facebook and Intel collaborate on AI computer chips

Intel, Facebook, and other Internet giants have joined forces to fund the development of new computer chips that can support artificial intelligence. Brian Krzanich, Intel chief, said Tuesday at the WSJD Live Conference that AI is on a fast growth trajectory and that these chips, called “Nervana Neural Network Processors,” or NNP, will have the ultra-high speed and data-processing capacity that AI systems will need.

“I think we are just at the beginning of a transformation,” Krzanich said. “Artificial intelligence is going to be similar to what the internet was back in the 1990s.”

Nervana is a deep-learning startup that began work on this new class of chips more than three years ago. The research continued after Intel bought the company in 2016, and the first new chips are nearing completion and will be ready to ship “soon,” according to an online post by Naveen Rao, Nervana co-founder.

AI has been an area of interest for IBM in the last few years. The company announced last month that Waymo’s self-driving minivans will use IBM technology, and it signed a 10-year contract with MIT in June to establish an AI research lab on the college’s Cambridge, Mass., campus.

Intel sought Facebook’s help because of Facebook’s expertise in cloud-based services, Krzanich told his audience. He explained that cloud technology has been a key component of AI technology development so far and that Facebook can help design a chip that tailors itself to cloud-based operations.

He looks forward to these new chips revving up software and information-processing capabilities within a wide range of industries. The chips could support the emergence of “new classes of AI applications” could emerge in health care, social media, the automobile industry, and weather forecasting, among others, he said.

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