Google and Facebook run a lot of artificial intelligence software in massive data centers, but Intel has a new gadget for those who want to bring AI to the devices that roam the world.
The Neural Compute Stick 2 (NCS 2) packages Intel’s Movidius Myriad X AI chip into a USB accessory that can plug into a computer. It costs $99, up from $79 for the first model Intel released last year, but it’s eight times faster, said Steen Graham, general manager of Intel’s internet of things work.
That speedup is useful for people like Peter Ma, who combined a first-generation Neural Compute Stick with a microscope and laptop to create a device that spots bacterial contaminants in a flow of water. The first prototype scans 3 or 4 frames per second, but the new stick bumps it up to 20, so there’s less chance something will flow past unspotted, Ma said.
It’s not the kind of thing most of us need, but it’s good for prototype creators who want to see what the brainlike neural network technology can do with a hardware boost. AI is good for tasks like speech recognition, photography and spam filtering, but Intel’s Movidius chips are geared specifically for processing visual information.
AI chips are a hot area in Silicon Valley, with companies like Apple and Google working on projects to speed up devices. AI not only opens up new abilities for computers, it also helps compensate for the faltering speed improvements from many general-purpose processors.
Data centers are well-suited to a lot of AI work that benefits from big computers that have a permanent power source. But AI in mobile devices has advantages, too, including privacy, performance and freedom from unreliable network connections.
Intel sold tens of thousands of the first-gen sticks and indeed couldn’t keep up with demand. This time around it’s better prepared, Graham said.
The sticks can also be ganged together so a computer can use several at once. The bigger goal, though, is to encourage customers to commercialize products using the Movidius chips.Intel announced the new Neural Compute Stick 2 at its AI DevCon event in Beijing.