New Hardware for Smart Software from IBM

November 2, 2022

IBM is getting into the AI hardware acceleration game with its new Artificial Intelligence Unit (AIU), we learn from VentureBeat‘s piece, “IBM Announces System-On-Chip AI Hardware.” Each AIU holds 32 cores similar to the Telum chip’s AI core. Rather than a CPU or GPU, the new component is an application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) designed with AI in mind. This allows it to perform tasks not part of many AI accelerators, we’re told, like the ability to virtualize AI acceleration services. We are assured it is compatible with “the vast majority” of software commonly used by data scientists.

So far so good, but we noticed something in a passage tucked at the end of the write-up—it almost seems results are merely close enough for horseshoes and hand grenades. In order to work faster, the AIU practices “approximate computing.” Kerner tells us:

“Approximate computing is really the recognition that AI is not 100% correct,’ Leland Chang, principal research staff member and senior manager, AI hardware, at IBM Research, told VentureBeat. Chang explained that AI often works by recognizing a pattern and could well be just 99% accurate, meaning that 1% of results are incorrect. The concept of approximate computing is the recognition that within the AI algorithm it is possible to cut some corners. While Chang admitted that this can reduce precision, he explained that if information is lost in the right places, it doesn’t affect the result — which, more often than not, will still be 99% correct. ‘Approximate computing … is simply recognizing that it doesn’t have to be 100% exact,’ Chang said. ‘You’re losing some information, but you’re losing in places where it doesn’t matter.'”

You don’t say. Can we get a guarantee of that? Who makes the electronic components? Oh, right. Bad question.

Cynthia Murrell, November 2, 2022


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