Microsoft unveils Brainwave- a hardware platform for real-time AI

Microsoft has announced Project Brainwave, a deep learning system that embeds neural network technology into the company’s high-tech programmable computer chips to accelerate one of the key processes for artificial intelligence.

Researchers at the Hot Chips conference in Cupertino, California showed a Gated Recurrent Unit model running on Intel’s new Stratix 10 field programmable gate array (FPGA) chip at a speed of 39.5 teraflops, without batching operations at all. The lack of batching means that it’s possible for the hardware to handle requests as they come in, providing real-time insights for machine learning systems.

“We designed the system for real-time AI, which means the system processes requests as fast as it receives them, with ultra-low latency,” said Doug Burger, Microsoft distinguished engineer, in a post describing the technical details of the system. “Real-time AI is becoming increasingly important as cloud infrastructures process live data streams, whether they be search queries, videos, sensor streams, or interactions with users.”

 Microsoft is using Brainwave across the army of FPGAs it has installed in its data centers. According to Burger, Brainwave will allow Microsoft services to more rapidly support artificial intelligence features. Though Microsoft appears to be using this technology internally, for now, the Redmond company does plan to make Project Brainwave available to third parties in the future through its own Azure cloud services.

Microsoft competes against Amazon, Apple, IBM, Google and other major technology players in artificial intelligence and the cloud. The Redmond company last year formed a new 5,000-person Artificial Intelligence & Research Group as a fourth engineering division inside the company, along with the Office, Windows and cloud groups.

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