50 Trillion Calculations per Second in the Palm of Your Hand—Data Sheet

September 19, 2019, 1:41 PM UTC

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The number of transistors packed onto a modern chip inside your phone or PC runs into the billions but it’s still sometimes amazing to comprehend the computing power you can easily hold in the palm of your hand. When I met Intel vice presidents Gadi Singer and Carey Kloss on Wednesday, they showed me a new circuit board the company has created for speeding up artificial intelligence apps.

The board is the size of an SSD drive, made to plug into a standard PC or server. The Nervana chip at its heart is no bigger than a quarter. But it can perform some 50 trillion operations per second and greatly speed up the job of an A.I. program that has already been trained as it makes inferences such as identifyng objects in photos. This Nervana chip, code-named Spring Hill, could displace graphics processors and standard CPUs now used for the same kinds of tasks. Other products in the Nervana line are aimed at speeding up the training side of deep learning A.I. programs, as well.

The issue for Intel, and the larger A.I. Community in general, is who needs such specialized A.I. chips? Of course, the giant cloud service companies like Google and Facebook can use them in their data centers. But what about smaller tech companies? And forget just tech companies, what about all kinds of other businesses that could potentially create smart programs from their own internal data?

Part of Singer’s job is to evangelize—he’s in Boston to speak at MIT Technology Review’s EmTech conference—and he’s pitching the “democratization of data science.” Many businesses, from hospitals to farms to shippers, collect data that could reveal critical patterns to help decision-making via yet-to-be created A.I. apps, he says. Or as Kloss puts it: “It’s important to get people away from the idea that deep learning is just for identifying cats.”

Aaron Pressman

On Twitter: @ampressman

Email: aaron.pressman@fortune.com


Alternate universe. Outgoing Apple board member (and current Disney CEO) Bob Iger has written a memoir. In a long excerpt published in Vanity Fair, Iger recounts in detail his close relationship with the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs and says he and his pal would probably have discussed merging their companies if Jobs had not died. "With every success the company has had since Steve’s death, there’s always a moment in the midst of my excitement when I think, I wish Steve could be here for this," Iger concludes.  

Cashing in your chips. While some of the famed unicorns are having problems going public, smaller tech stars are flying. Cloud monitoring startup Datadog priced its new shares at $27 on Wednesday evening, above the range forecast by its underwriters and valuing the company at almost $8 billion. And while thinking of one famed unicorn that just delayed its IPO, the Wall Street Journal has a meaty profile of We Company CEO Adam Neumann with a lead that almost beats William Miller's brilliant fictitious opening to his profile of fictitious band Stillwater in the movie Almost Famous. And it's also airplane-related. Here's the Journal on We's CEO: "Adam Neumann was flying high. Literally."   

Now you tell me. After spending two years fighting government demands to spin off some of its larger units, AT&T is now reportedly considering dumping the DirecTV satellite service that it bought in 2015 for $67 billion (including debt). On the other hand, the leak may be part of a strategy to appease activist investor Elliott Management, showing that the telecom giant is at least taking its recommendations seriously.      

But did they skip 13? IBM says it has built a fourteenth version of a quantum computer, that futuristic and elusive beast that will make today's supercomputers look like kids playing in a sandbox. The new machine has 53 qubits, the key calculating factor that blows away the two-bit transistors in traditional computers and a big step up from IBM's prior device, which had only 20.    

I see what you did there. Researchers from Northeastern University and Imperial College London caught smart TVs made by Samsung and LG and streaming devices from Roku and Amazon uploading data about their owners to advertisers, in some cases even when the devices were not in use.   

Capitol grill. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was back in Washington, D.C. this week to speak with lawmakers and field their compliants about his company. But unlike in the spring, this Zuckerberg tour consists mainly of private, one-on-one meetings, Politico reports.  


Every tech company wants to encourage innovation, but how best to draw out the best ideas from employees? At Samsung, employees are encouraged to submit possibly innovative projects via an online database. CNN's Kristie Lu Stout got access to Samsung's secret development lab and reports on how such submissions make their way to becoming actual products (and also chronicles a bunch of Samsung's more typical research efforts in the interesting piece and accompanying video).   
Employees with winning applications can then enter the lab to refine a prototype until they are field tested in the real world and are eventually deemed fit for market. A company policy allows employees to spin off successful C-Lab projects into separate, independently-managed companies, which Samsung supports with seed money. Samsung typically retains a minority stake in the spun-off startups.
Since the C-Lab opened six years ago, more than 250 successful projects have been developed including the “nemonic” mini printer, which prints photos and memos as sticky notes without ink or toner. The company now making the compact smart printer, Mangoslab, spun out of Samsung’s C-Lab and launched as a full-fledged startup in 2016.  


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Need a little giggle to start your day? Check our the finalists for the 2019 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards. I'm especially partial to the face palming bear and the zebras who appear to be yucking it up. What's you favorite?

This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman. Find past issues, and sign up for other Fortune newsletters.

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