Gaming Chip Is Helping Raise Your Computer’s IQ

Facebook, Google and Microsoft are tapping the power of a vintage computer gaming chip to raise your smartphone's IQ with artificially intelligent programs that recognize faces and voices, translate conversations on the fly and make searches faster and more accurate.

It's part of a trend toward the use of an artificial intelligence technique called "deep learning" that is creating a sense that a new era of smart technology is only dawning.

"It has become difficult to tell the difference between state-of-the-art technology and magic, thanks to new sources of data, cheap memory storage, new algorithms and really powerful computers," said Stephen J. Eglash, executive director of Stanford's data science and artificial intelligence laboratories.

"We're all carrying these supercomputers around in our pockets. They do amazing things, yet I think they have barely scratched the surface of what's possible," he said.

The artificial intelligence trend accelerated with the discovery that a computer gaming chip called a graphics processing unit, or GPU -- developed by Santa Clara's Nvidia 15 years ago and now made by several other companies, as well -- could be used to make AI programs run faster on "neural networks" of computer chips that work a little bit like the human brain.

These programs are composed of layers that are assigned specific tasks. Then they're exposed repeatedly to mountains of data and given simple instructions on how to make sense of it.

Facebook has trained neural networks to read stories, answer questions, play games and learn tasks that are not specifically assigned, by observing examples. It is currently using artificial intelligence to caption news feeds for the blind.

"We're early in figuring out how this technology is going to make Facebook more powerful and simpler for our users, which is really the goal for the company," said Serkan Piantino, director of engineering for Facebook's artificial intelligence...

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